Year of the Ox

Well, the Year of the Rat went out with a bang (literally) last night at midnight.  And now it is the Year of the Ox.  For those unfamiliar with the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) celebration, this is the most important holiday of the year for the Chinese.  It’s like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled up into one.  In honor of the big day, I thought I’d give you a primer on the key ingredients for a smashingly successful Spring Festival celebration.

1: Jiaozi.  Lots and lots of Jiaozi.  Those are the little Chinese dumplings filled with different combinations of meat and vegetable and then boiled.  (And then sometimes fried.)  Around here, the most popular is pork and leek… my personal favorite is pork and cucumber.  Jiaozi is good, but like most things, too much of a good thing is bad.  And around the New Year, you get way too much of a good thing.
2: Fireworks.  The louder and bigger, the better.  You can find things for sale on a street corner here that is reserved for New York City’s 4th of July Celebration in the states.  In other words, it’s the type of stuff that you and I assume is only handled by professionals.  That would be a wrong assumption.  It’s a little boy’s (or a grown man’s) dream world.  Dirt cheap semi-controlled explosions.
3: Red.  Red clothes.  Red lanterns.  Red paper cutouts.  Red door posts.  Red. Red. Red.  It’s the color of the season.
4: If it’s “Your Year” (i.e. if you were born in the Year of the Ox — ’49, ’61, ’73, ’85, ’97, and finally ’09 are some of the recent years), then you buy red underwear for the year… I guess you might not wear it all the time, but it is important to wear it some during the year.  It’s “good luck.”  So, whether you are guy or gal, there is bright red underwear available for all. 
5:  Did I mention firecrackers?  Last night at midnight, it sounded like a war zone.  I’m serious.  No 4th of July or New Year’s Eve celebration in the USA has ever come close.  Really.  And, they continue even now… probably will continue for about a week.  Our lives are currently punctuated by the shockingly loud sound of firecrackers reverberating through our concrete buildings.  We even managed to sleep through some of it last night!
6: Fruit.  Oranges are really important this time of year, as they should be.  Chinese oranges are awesome.  American oranges really don’t hold a candle to them, generally.  We can even buy those little tiny mandarin oranges fresh — you know, the ones you get in a can in the states?  We eat them like candy.
7:  CCTV9’s New Year’s Spectacular.  A bit like watching the “ball drop” in America, most every household tunes in to watch the show.  We didn’t see it, so I don’t know what was on it.  But I know it is very, very important.
8:  Just to drive the point home… and in case it failed to register with you already, fireworks are really important.
You know what my favorite part of Chinese New Year is?  Supposedly, since its timing is based on the Lunar Calendar, it will get warm after the holiday is over.  (Hence the name, Spring Festival.)  This is very good news, friends, as we don’t do winter well.  And Beijing is in the throes of a bitterly cold winter.  I’m hoping the predictions are right!
So, to all of you out there, Chun Jie Kuaile!  (That’s Happy New Year!)
And, I really do promise that soon I’ll get back to Hannah’s story.

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