It has always been traditional for me to be at home on New Year’s. This year, I was in two homes for two New Year’s. When I came to China, I did not know that the Lunar New Year was fast approaching (just letting you know beforehand, Chinese New Year started in early February, not January 1).
Shanghai, known to be a bigger, brighter, and crazier New York, was so bright and decorative. You can see how traditional China was when it came to celebrating their New Year.
The Chinese New Years celebration begins on the first day of the Lunar Calendar and it continues on for 15 days. During my time here, I had the amazing opportunity to see it for myself. All the streets had so many red colored designs on the walls with beautiful or cute roosters. They cut out Spring Couplets which are in flower, rooster, or fish shapes. They mainly use the couplets to decorate homes for good luck and to welcome the New Year.
It is traditional that the color red is used here in China because it represents so many positive and powerful meanings. It is also traditional for people to travel all around China and Asia to celebrate the New Year. Each day of the 15 days, people in China eat and partake in different activities or superstitious rituals to celebrate the New Year to come. For example, one night you need to eat rice bread, long noodles, chicken, fish, and bean curd. The rice breads represent the family members and the long noodles mean you will have a long and elastic life. The meaning behind chicken, fish, and bean curd are goodness, abundance, and richness that will hopefully come in the next year.
Some even say that if you do not wear red every day of the 15 days of the Lunar New Year when it is the year of your zodiac animal sign, you will have bad luck for the whole year.
Another custom is to write poetry with positive messages on red Chinese paper and put it on the doors inside and outside your home. One on top, and the other two on opposite sides of the door. Some believe the reason is similar to the Christian and Jewish story of Moses and Passover. For the Chinese, this welcomes positivity in their lives and helps people recognize what they truly care for. Our family also cut out shapes of roosters and flowers and put it all around the house.
But, the best part was venturing out and seeing the city.
Imagine food at the fair, like the Del Mar Fair in San Diego, only it’s every day and Chinese style. This is what it’s like in markets all around China. My first experience with this enrichment of good authentic Chinese street food was during the New Year. The family and I went on our first excursion for Chinese New Years at a place called Yuan Garden. As you can imagine, it was extremely packed with people. The decorations were to die for, especially the lanterns which are known all throughout the world. My first taste was spicy lamb on a stick. For only two dollars, it felt like a trip to food heaven. I am very open to eating and trying new things; I had dumplings, yogurt that had been fermenting in a ceramic bottle, and a soup dumpling known as Xialongbao.
I loved the energy of this place, everyone seemed like they were enjoying life. Even as I was being pushed and shoved in a huge crowd, I still kept a smile on my face as I realized how great this experience was for me.
Next up: A trip to Taipei, Taiwan.
Nasreen Nabizadeh is a public health junior. She is studying abroad this spring at East China Normal University in Shanghai, China.