When I was growing up, Chinese New Year was an annual tradition, which my mother had to coax my brother, sister and I into participating in. It often consisted of a banquet at a large, sterile, and in my young mind, smelly Chinese restaurant in Monterey Park. Our extended family and friends would gather wearing our finest red garments for a feast of Chinese delicacies, which due to their putrid smells, strange consistencies or just down right unpleasing looks, I often opted out of eating. Usually a plate of chao mian (friend noodles) was ordered specifically for me. However, one of the more favorable memories for my siblings and I in addition to our five other cousins, was the small red package that would be passed from the elder generation to the younger. Received with a bowed head and both hands, these 红包 hong bao (literally red package) often held a crisp $100 bill, that would be wondrous play money for our ludicrous teenage activities.
For the first time in my twenty four years of experiencing Chinese New Year, this year’s week-long celebration in Beijing enabled me to see the tradition in a new light. The New Year, when celebrated in China, is equivalent to Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Halloween and July 4th rolled up into one splendidly spectacular firework-filled bonanza. There is no tradition or holiday that I have experienced anywhere else in the world that is as lavish as Chinese New Year in China. Known as 春节 chunjie, or literally Spring Festival, the majority of the celebrating spans the one week of official government holiday during the two and a half week long festival. This one week is also known to many as the greatest migration in the world, as nearly 10% of China’s 1.2 billion people, travel from their cities of work to the towns that they once called home. The week is filled with the traditional meal of 饺子 jiaozi (dumplings), drinking the potinent gasoline-like 白酒 baijiu liquor, and more fireworks than you’ve seen in your life, put together into one day. And then it happens for another seven days… However, I will say, 春节 chunjie is maybe the only week where you are able to move around Beijing without having to deal with its population of over 22 million.
It is an absolutely incredible experience and one that, for the first time in a long time, made me happy to be half Chinese. Below are some pictures from my 春节 chunjie festivities…
Performance at one of the numerous temple fairs (quite literally a fair at a temple) occurring around the city
Just a few of the hundreds of thousands of red lanterns hung around the city
Rides at the Chaoyang Park temple fair
Happy babies galore
Jiaozi making feast on the eve of Chinese New Year at my apartment (Ours were stuffed with ingredients such as pork, purple and white cabbage, eggs, scallions, mushrooms and lotus root)
Just a few of the over 150 jiaozi that were made at my house that evening
And of course…Fireworks! One bursting right in front of my apartment window…No zoom needed