The universal appeal of the lunar new year

By Wang Zhuoqiong (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-02-26 06:24

The sudden, sputtering sound of fireworks exploding inside the farmhouse jolted Ted Maloney awake on Chinese New Year's Day. The time? 5 am.

Maloney, 55, an American who teaches at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, had traveled with his student, Chen Ping, to Dagang village in East China's Jiangsu Province to celebrate the holiday. And Chen's family of six treated their guest to a traditional Chinese celebration, explosions and all.

Chen Ping's father, a 45-year-old migrant worker, set off the fireworks early on New Year's Day. It is believed that the sound of the blasts drives off ghosts and evil spirits.

"I am very happy that this year I could come here. The family is very warm and generous," Maloney said.

He said that last year he stayed at a hotel in Chengdu in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, but instead of a vibrant celebration he found only shuttered shops and empty streets.

"What makes the festival interesting is how people in rural areas prepare traditional food," he said.

"It is like a combination of Christmas, Halloween, Easter and Independence Day (the United States' national day)," Maloney said of the Chinese traditional festival.

"Kids go door to door to get candy, and dragon dances are performed throughout the night, which is just like Halloween. And the fact that this holiday takes place during the winter, the family reunions and the constant eating remind me of Christmas," he added.

Chen's family dressed in new coats on Chinese New Year's Day, which Maloney likened to the tradition of wearing new clothes to church on Easter Sunday back in his home country.

"Plus, the fireworks are a lot like Independence Day," he added.

Other expatriates who were treated to traditional Chinese celebrations also picked up on the similarities between Chinese traditions and holiday customs in their home countries.

Helen Couchman, 33, a British artist, said that except for the lack of religious meaning, she found Chinese New Year quite similar to Christmas.

On Chinese New Year's Eve, Couchman had a dinner party with other expatriates, and then went to a rooftop party to watch the fireworks. After that, the revellers went out for more drinks and let off fireworks to keep the demons away next year.

"I very much enjoyed the fireworks and the way that everyone participates in the celebration, no matter how much money they have or what background they're from. Seeing the city explode with fireworks at midnight was a big shared experience," she said.

"It felt good," she added. "I enjoyed meeting lots of people, and I enjoyed the sense of mischief that the fireworks seemed to bring out of everyone. I was laughing with an old Chinese man at the way the fireworks made all the car alarms go off."

Nick Otto, 32, a photographer from the United States, noted that people are generally more relaxed and festive during the holidays, no matter what country they are in or what holiday they are celebrating. He added that he noticed a lot more smiles on people's faces when he passed them on the street.

"It's fantastic," said Otto, "As an expatriate, I get to celebrate New Year twice a year."

David Eimer, 39, a British journalist, said he had a great view of the fireworks exploding at midnight in Beijing.

"I was on the 14th floor of an apartment block and could look out of the window at the fireworks exploding virtually opposite me. In the UK, we don't normally get that close to fireworks!" he said.

"It's nice to be part of it. I think every expatriate should experience it at least once because it's an amazing time to be in China."

(China Daily 02/26/2007 page3)

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