As promised, we continue today with day 2 of our informative series on New Year’s in Chengdu. Today we tackle a very important part of any holiday – decoration. It’s always interesting to see what people choose to decorate their houses and apartments with for any given holiday. I’m sure that decorations used for Christmas or Halloween in the US may be just as mind boggling in their symbolism (or tackiness) as some of the decorations here. But, just for fun, we’ll break down what’s gracing Chengdu’s windows and doors.
First off, before we get into the glitz and glitter of the decorating for the new year. One must first understand the elbow grease involved in preparations. Back in the day Chinese would engage in bouts of serious spring cleaning to welcome the new year. It was believed by some that if you pick up a broom or dustpan on New Year’s day you sweep away any good fortune that has arrived with the first day of the year. While such superstitions may have faded with time, the trend of spring cleaning still remains. Restaurants, shops, even Carrefour have spent the last days, weeks, even months, sprucing up their storefronts, cleaning every little corner and purging any unnecessary items. It is common to give your building a fresh coat of paint, often red paint on household doorways. A shave, haircut and a new outfit of clothes is also common on the to-do list around here as many like to get a fresh start on their year.
Once things are clean you decorate with any combination of the following:
Lanterns: big, small, light up, not light up, red, red and gold, animal shape…you name it, they’ll turn it into a lantern. The lantern festival takes place on the 15th day of the new year and has connections to “Little New Year” which ends the new years festivities. Little New Year was a day with relaxed curfews and is also associated with matchmaking, one of many Valentine’s days in the Chinese calendar.
Hongbao: these “red bags” (lai see in Cantonese) are commonly filled with money and given by the older generation to the younger generation, especially children and single woman during the new year festivities (they’re given out at weddings too and the funds usually pay for the banquet). Employers also commonly give their employees a bonus hongbao during their new year’s banquets. Hongbaos, which symbolize good luck, can also be used for decorations, usually hung in trees or bushes.
Mandarin oranges: symbolizes gold and are the fruit of the new year celebration. It’s common to see bushes of oranges adorning doorways and entrance ways bringing their buildings wealth and good fortune. I read last week that some like to take baths with Mandarin oranges to increase their chances of bringing wealth to the new year.
Chinese knots: a red thread knotted symmetrically symbolizes wealth and prosperity. Often fish (symbolize longevity) and gold nuggets (wealth) hang from the bottom of the knots. These decorations are hung in windows, doorways and door knobs.
Anything having to do with the animal of the year: the Chinese zodiac, which has twelve animals, assigns an animal to each year. This year is the year of the rabbit or tuzi. To celebrate, stores and residencies alike adorn their doors and windows with anything having to do with the rabbit. Some are tacky, some are classy. I prefer rabbits in the paper cutting as the one to the left (image source here).
Chinese calligraphy or couplets: the big ones are “xin nian kuai le” (新年快乐), happy new year, and “gong xi fa cai” (恭喜发财), congratulations and be prosperous, adorn buildings written on red paper, often in golden script.
In other, un-CNY-related news, we saw American author and humorist David Sedaris tonight as part of our local bookstore’s literary festival. It was great to get a dose of culture and Americana humor right in our own backyard and if you ever get a chance to hear him speak I highly recommend it!