Chinese students gathered at Concordia last Thursday to honour a long-standing Chinese tradition: watching a New Year TV special comparable to Dick Clark’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”
“People’s favourite part of the program is the stand-up comedy,” said Sun-Yin Wong, the vice-president of the Concordia Chinese Christian Fellowship (CCCF).
Other than watching the New Year’s special, which is broadcast to 1,254,062,000 people in China, Wong said Chinese students don’t do much to celebrate Chinese culture at Concordia, but that for Chinese people the New Year is still a very important holiday.
In mythology, there are two explanations for the founding of the Chinese calendar. Zhang Ming, a young man who works in Montreal’s Chinatown, said he doesn’t know much about the Chinese New Year, except the way it began. Zhang said he was told as a child that New Year started when a great beast named Nian, the Chinese word for year, began eating people on the night before the first day of the new year. “But I don’t believe that,” said Zhang, smiling.
The second explanation is that the first King of China known in mythology as the Yellow King, was crowned in 2697 BCE, making this the 4,700th Chinese year.
The year 4700 in the Chinese calendar is the year of the Black Sheep, which according to some sources spells financial ruin for those who are not cautious, and to others relaxation and harmony, due to the sheep’s peaceful nature.
The Chinese calendar is lunar, meaning the span of every month is calculated based on the wax and wane of the moon, or one lunar cycle. New Year festivities start with the new moon on the first day of the New Year and end with the of the full moon fifteen days later with a dragon dance, where several people wear a dragon suit and dance through the streets.
Traditional Chinese culture attaches a number of symbols to the food eaten on the New Year, the way the house is kept, religious observances and decorations. One of the most important traditions is that of smearing honey on the mouth of a paper picture of Tsao Chun, the Kitchen God, and then burning it, so that the smoke of the god rises to Heaven, where he will then report “sweet things” to the Jade Emperor.
Today, most observant Chinese families hang “duilian” or banners bearing poems about springtime, on either side of the doorway, as well as red, diamond-shaped banners bearing the Chinese word for luck. It is also common practise to give out “lucky” red envelopes to children filled with money and shoot off firecrackers. Mythology has it that the colour red and firecrackers were used to scare away the monster Nian.
Hailing from Buddhist and Taoist traditions, Chinese New Year traditions are still practised throughout China and in Montreal to varying degrees.
“Of course, for Chinese people, our New Year is the most important festival. In China, it’s an official holiday; people spend time with family,” said Wong. “Some people gather with the family for supper; some gather with friends if no family is here Montreal.” But Wong says students here don’t have much time for celebration.
“I live alone here in Montreal, and as a student, I pay more attention about my studies than celebrating Chinese New Year.”