Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Fly me to the (First) Moon

The 15 days celebration of the Chinese New Year will open this year, the year of the Rat, the first of the 12-year cycle of animals. Rat is associated with aggression, wealth, charm, and order, yet also associated with death, war, the occult, pestilence, and atrocities.

Of all the traditional Chinese festivals, the New Year Eves is the most colorful, elaborate and important day of the year. This is a time for the Chinese to congratulate each other and themselves on having passed through another year, a time to finish out the old, and to welcome in the new.

The Chinese New year is celebrated on the first day of the First Moon of the lunar calendar, and that is the reason why the date is changing every year, could varies from as early as January 21st to as late as February 19th. Chinese New Year signified turning over a new leaf.

Socially, it is the time for family reunions, and for visiting friends and relatives. This holiday, more than any other Chinese holiday, stressed the importance of family ties. The Chinese New year’s Eve dinner gathering is among the most important occasions of the year to have a family reunion.

The preparation of Chinese New Year can take as long as one month before starting the new festivities. The 20th of the Twelfth Moon is usually set aside for the annual housecleaning, or the “sweeping of the grounds”. Every corner of the house must be swept and cleaned in preparation for the new year.

Spring Couplets written in black ink on large vertical scrolls of red paper, are put on the walls or on the sides of the gate-ways. These couplets, short poems written in Classical Chinese, are expressions of good wishes for the family in the coming year.

In addition, symbolic flowers and fruits are used to decorate the house, and colorful pictures are placed on the walls. Some people give their homes, doors and window-panes a new coat of red paint. Purchasing new clothing, shoes and receiving a hair-cut also symbolize a fresh start.

After the house been cleaned it is time to bid farewell to the Kitchen God. In traditional China, the Kitchen God is regarded as the guardian of the family hearth. He is identified as the inventor of fire, which is necessary for cooking and is also the censor of household morals. By tradition, the Kitchen God left the house on the 23rd of the last month to report to heaven on the behavior of the family. At this time, the family did everything possible to obtain a favorable report from the Kitchen God. On the evening of the 23rd, the family would give the Kitchen God a ritualistic farewell dinner with sweet foods and honey. Some said this was a bribe, others said it sealed his mouth from saying bad thins.

Free from the every-watchful eyes of the Kitchen God, who was supposed to return on the first day of the New Year, the family now can prepare for the upcoming celebrations. In old China, stores closed shop on the last two or three days of the year and remained closed for the first week of the New Year. Consequently, families are busy in the last week of the old year stocking up on foods and gifts.

On the last day of the old year, everyone is busy either in preparing food for the next two days, or in going to the barbers and getting tidied up for the New Year’s Day. The night before the Chinese New Year if you take a bath in pomelo leaves, some say that you will be healthy for the rest of the year. Tradition stipulated that all food be pre-pared before the New Year’s Day, so that all sharp instruments, such as knives and scissors, could be put away to avoid cutting the “luck” of the New Year. The kitchen and well are not to be disturbed on the first day of the Year.

The New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations are strickly family affairs. All members of the family sould gather for the important family meal on the evening of the New year’s Eve. Even if a family member could not attend, an empty seat would be kept to symbolize that person’s presence at the banquet. At midnight following the banquet, the younger members of the family would bow and pay their respects to their parents and elders.

Happy “Gong Xi Fa Ca