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4 February

Happy Chinese New Year!

This week marked the Chinese Lunar New Year and OV Jennan Faust (Cl 92-99), who currently lives and works in China, kindly sent the following:

“Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival, is a festive time for people of Chinese heritage around the world, and in China is similar to Christmas as the biggest holiday of the year. It’s a time of family reunions, when across China all the labourers, office workers and professionals who make up the populations of the huge cities (called ‘migrant workers’) all head back to their hometowns in the countryside to reunite with one another, so that parents, grandparents, cousins and children can all celebrate the coming of the New Year together. Thus, in the week before the holiday, train stations across China become totally overcrowded and motorways get all blocked up as the largest annual human migration in the world gets underway.

“Once reunited with their families, it is traditional for the older generations to give a ‘red packet’ of ‘lucky money’ to children or young unmarried adults, but to get it, you must greet your elder with a traditional Chinese New Year greeting, by clasping your hands together, and saying something like, “Xin Nian Kuai Le, Gong Xi Fa Cai”, which means “Happy New Year, congratulations on getting rich” (or “Wish you get rich”!). Everyone should also try to wear at least one red item of clothing, and wear new clothes. Families will decorate their houses with red lanterns and other New Year’s decorations such as ornate paper cuttings that stick on the window, or ‘couplets’, which are two red banners with fortuitous phrases that stick on either side of the front door to invite good luck, harmony and prosperity into the home. Traditional foods include ‘jiaozi’, a kind of dumpling that looks like a Chinese money pouch and the whole family joins in to make together, and fish, which also represent good luck.

“In the evenings, people will set off firecrackers and watch fireworks. The traditional story is that the Year Beast that comes at the end of each year will be scared away from your village by the loud noises, so people make as much noise as they can!

“Since I’m not Chinese, my family and I stayed in Shenzhen, the city where I live, this year. Here, I work both as an English teacher and as a trader in manufactured goods. Since the factories and schools are all closed, I relax at home with my family (my Indonesian wife and our nine-year-old daughter). We celebrate Spring Festival the modern way by exchanging greetings and red packets with friends and colleagues through our iPhones and Huaweis, and watching galas of dancing and singing on TV. At around 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve the fireworks start, and we walk around the estate to find who’s setting off the best ones (in Shenzhen, fireworks aren’t officially allowed, so there are very few organized gatherings, only groups of friends and families who have managed to get a hold of some, but anyone can come and watch – even the security guards who don’t try to stop you, but will watch out for accidents!).

“Wishing all readers, Chinese or not, a Happy Chinese New Year of the Tiger! May your studies continually improve, your homes be harmonious, and your lives be filled with good fortune and prosperity!”

Chinese New Year Jennan Faust