Chinese New Year was celebrated on February 10th this year. In China, millions of people travelled home to be with their families on the family oriented Lunar New Year. The holiday is most importantly a family celebration around a table at home, according to Mandarin teacher Michelle Zhao. Over 15 days, people celebrate by partaking in prescribed rituals designated for each day. On New Years Eve, people eat dumplings. People eat plenty of fish because the Chinese word for fish, yu, sounds similar to surplus in Chinese, thus believed to bring good fortune in the New Year. Nian gao- your cake is believed to make people grow taller because Nian gao sounds like the Chinese word for tall. The last evening of the festival, people carry spherical lamps that represent reunion. These superstitions and verbal associations and the stories behind them form a complex web of Chinese New Year traditions. Many Chinese still adhere to the rituals although in big cities people may be likely to take a vacation instead celebrating at home traditionally.
This year Michelle’s Mandarin class will perform a skit exploring the meaning of the snake in Chinese culture. “In many cultures, the snake is not an auspicious animal,” says Michelle Zhao. Snakes were often considered a threat to mankind, and are instinctively avoided. Yet the Chinese dragon, a highly auspicious and revered animal to the Chinese, seems to be derived from the snake. When the human mind created the powerful and revered dragon, why did the dragon resemble the dangerous and unscrupulous snake? The answer is not clear, though it is important to note that the Chinese admired the snake for the way it moved silently without legs. There is a Chinese idiom that goes “to draw a snake and add feet to it” which means don’t add unnecessary and superfluous additions to something perfect. See the skit to find out the story behind this proverb!