January 26th marked the beginning of Spring Festival (also known as Chinese New Year). It also marked the point where we left the old year of the pig behind and entered the year of the ox. As you may know, it being a lunar calendar, the date of the Spring Festival changes every year, starting with the second new moon after the Winter solstice and festivities lasting until the 15th day, with a Full Moon. Although it would seem the Chinese are celebrating the beginning of year 4707 (or 4706, I've found both online), the average person does not seem to be even aware of the existence of a different year-counting system, as China has been using the Gregorian calendar for a while.
So, what's to do during Spring Festival? Well, there's:
Watching and hearing fireworks, of all colours, shapes, speeds and effects, day and night, day after day! (even from my study room the show was spectacular) Among their many obvious uses, they're useful for chasing away evil spirits, lest they spoil the coming year.
Going to a Temple Fair! (Miào Huì, 庙会) This time we went to the Temple Fair of the Temple of Earth (Dì Tán, 地坛). Even though Temple Fairs have existed for about 1000 years, in the 1950's they ceased to exist (superstitious and religious events were big no-no's back then), only having a (then timid) come-back in the 1980's, after a whole generation had forgotten what they were all about. Nevertheless, and whether a deeper sense is lacking altogether or not (the karaoke singing right atop the altar where only the emperor could pray is telling), they're colourful and, since they happen only once a year, not to be missed.
Eating. And Eating. And Eating some more. With family, with friends, alone. Dumplings, noodles and (my favorite), yuánxiāo (元宵), which are round, soft dumplings filled with black sesame paste (there are other fillings, but I'm a devout fan of the black sesame ones). Or Beijing snacks (left) or Uighur sweets (right, sold by a man from Kashgar with whom I had a fun exchange in Mandarin, Russian and Arabic) to ensure a sweet year!
Or becoming one year older, along with everybody else, on the 7th day of the new year! For, as you may (or may not) know, in China your age is calculated just on your year of birth. Everyone who was born in 1973, for example, will turn 36 this February 1st. And everyone born in 1973, and all those born in 12 year cycles before and after that, is celebrating THEIR year, the year of the Ox! If you're an ox, remember to wear something red year-round, no matter how small, to bring some luck (or at least to use as a conversation starter, should you not be so superstitiously inclined).
No matter how you celebrate (or don't), happy Spring Festival! may 10,000 things be as you imagine them (wàn shì rú yì, 万事如意)! and congratulations and become prosperous (gōngxǐ fācái, 恭喜发财)!