SYDNEY – The Lantern Festival, which is the 15th day after Lunar New Year – and this year falls on February 14 – marks the end of the New Year festival.
Unable to travel to China to be with my extended family, I missed celebrating this year.
For thousands of years, Lunar New Year has been the most important festival celebrated by the Chinese community. It brings together more than a billion people across the world.
The holiday begins a week before New Year’s Eve and goes for 15 days. People often travel to where their family originated, with the majority heading to rural areas as a big family to enjoy food, drinks, traditions and more.
Every family and region in China also has its own traditions for celebrating this festival, as rural and urban, north and south are totally different in environment, food and activities.
I was born and raised in Wuhan in the southeast of China, so my experience is different. My family members come from Wuhan – an urbanized city from Hubei province.
City kids like me love street markets and visiting public areas such as the shopping mall and cinemas. Country kids, though, harvest their own vegetables and kill animals for meat and light fireworks at night. Cities forbid fireworks because of pollution and fire risks.
New Year’s Eve is one of the most important nights during the Chinese New Year.
Days before the New Year, people buy snacks, food, accessories, clothes at the many street markets that often have good sales going on.
Wuhan is known for its famous cuisines. Similar to surrounding provinces like Hunan and Chongqing, the food is saltier, more ‘umami’ and spicy in general.
Eating Nian Ye Fan, the New Year’s Eve meal, is one of the most exciting parts of the festival that I always look forward to. Big families and generations sit together around a big table where the younger children are to stand up and cheer their elders. The children holding their drinks and address them with a wish such as ‘live long, healthy and strong,’ and then everyone stands up together to cheer and drink.
Typical foods on the dinner table include fish – which symbolizes prosperity year after year – spring rolls and dumplings.
As is typical in Hubei cuisine, my grandma always cooks the traditional fried meatballs, smoked sausages and fish. She lets them cook as long as possible to make sure the flavors are marinated and salty enough.
After the meal, the family watches CCTV’s famous New Year Gala show featuring the best Chinese singers, dancers and all sorts of performances.
It is a perfect time to gather in the living room, have a few drinks and laugh together.
Lanterns, couplets and the art of Chinese calligraphy are among the most popular decorations when it comes to New Year.
My family loves decorating with an upside-down Fu hung at the front door, which represents ‘luck poured out’ and good fortune. It is also common to see red lanterns hanging in the street and in front of doors because it’s believed that it can drive off bad luck.
I learned Chinese calligraphy as a child and have written something every year to hang on my great-grandma’s door. They are often idioms or ideas of harmony and prosperity that people believe in, such as well wishes for the new year.
What I love most about New Year celebrations is how everyone in the family is together, from uncles and aunts to grandparents and cousins. We visit our elders in their apartments in different suburbs across the city, spending about a day at each place. This lasts for about four or five days, depending on the size of the family.
We arrive at their home with well-prepared gift boxes. Walking into their front doors, the younger children address the elders with respect before receiving ‘red packets’ of money from them.
They then invite us into their home and we all chat before lunch. Afterward, the younger children sneak out of the house to play outside. As a child, I loved spending my afternoons riding bikes near the parks, going to shopping malls, kayaking and walking on the streets with my cousins while the other adults play traditional Chinese games such as cards and mahjong.
The past two weeks, we’ve seen Lunar New Year celebrated across the world, from New York to Los Angeles, London to Singapore, to Sydney and Melbourne.
Walking around Chinatowns in Western countries, restaurants and shops are decorated with lanterns, couplets and paper cuts. People can watch parades and dragon dance performances that are part of this global celebration.
For the Lantern Festival, we normally decorate or paint lanterns, put them up in the streets or float them on the Yangtze River.
After dinner, it is a tradition to eat Tang Yuan, or sticky rice ball, for deserts, usually with black sesame or no fillings.
And that’s how the New Year sweetly comes to an end.
Yuki Wang is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.