I've been meaning to sit down and write about my experiences with holidays in China for a while, but haven't yet(no excuses). But prompted by a recent email and by my parents telling me time and time again that "so and so said you need to post more pictures/update your blog", I am. I'm writing this while sitting in the back of a van on the way back from seeing some amazing rice terraces, so read at your own risk! :] I could go back later and fix it or make it more cohesive, but then I'd never post it, so here you go!
Christmas Eve - Píng'ānYè 平安夜
Christmas - ShèngDànJié 圣诞节
Christmas in China is celebrated (I use the term loosely) differently than how I've experienced back home. China acknowledges Christmas and there will be decorations and Santas all over the malls and some shops. It's commercial Christmas and most people don't get the day off. Since Christmas is a Christian holiday, it makes sense that the country hasn't adopted more of an interest in it.
Most people, especially students (this encompasses college students and younger) are typically very interested in how foreigners (为国人）celebrate Christmas, which normally lead to some great conversations.
On Christmas Eve, it's traditional to give apples to your friends and family. This is because the Chinese for Christmas Eve is 平安夜Píng'ānYè and the Chinese for Apple is 平果Píngguǒ. It symbolizes safety and best wishes for others.
Spending in China at Christmas the past two years wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought. Last year, Erin's family visited so we were surrounded by family and friends. This year, even though Erin was home, I was still surrounded by friends who are more like family. I went to fellowship in morning and was surrounded by friends from around the world! It was truly incredible. I hosted a potluck in the afternoon for my foreign and Chinese friends and anyone who didn't have a place to go. We ate pizza, pulled pork, curry soup, Píngtán food, cinnamon rolls, breakfast casserole, egg tarts and so much more. We watched elf and both versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It was the first time some of our Chinese friends had celebrated Christmas.
Being China for Christmas was truly a privilege. It stripped down all the commercialism (ironically) and makes you focus on what it's truly about and what's really important.
New Years - XīnNián 新年
New Years in China is similar to back in the States. Most people have the day off, but it's celebrated differently by everyone. My friends and I had dinner together and went to celebrate at bar. We had New Years hats and even did the countdown, albeit by ourselves. There were fireworks somewhere (I could here them), but being in the middle of the city, I couldn't hear them.
New Year's Day, we went to the hot springs to relax.
Like I said, everyone celebrates differently, but I'm pretty sure no one in China ate cornbread and black-eyed peas, but I found out recently that neither do most people in the States! Crazy!!
Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) - ChūnJié 春节
Spring Festival is the end of the Chinese lunar calendar and is the biggest and most important celebration in China. People have likened it to Christmas in the States. To put it simply, China shuts down. Literally. You've got to get your groceries early or you'll be without food for a day or, in some places, maybe a week.
Most people go back to their hometown and spend the time with family. Some travel, while others just stay where they are. Very similar to Christmas in the West.
Last year, I traveled all across SE Asia and even popped over to Hawaii. This year, I stayed in Fuzhou for the most part. I went with my friend Doria to LóngYán for a few days to see the famous Tǔlóu village. It's famous because there are 122 Tǔlóu (direct translation is soil building), most of them are round, although some are rectangular. Typically they are 5 floors and can house between 6-60 families, depending on the size. The oldest one is 800 years old.
The tour guide told us a story, which has not been authenticated so take it for what it is. According to the story, in the 70's, American pilots flew over the village. Their first thought was alien crop circles, then mushrooms, then army bases. So America sent troops in the check it out and found Chinese families instead of soldiers. Then everyone lived happily ever after.
After LóngYán, I came to 桂林 Guìlín with Erin, which is where I am currently am, sitting in a van, on my way back from seeing the most incredible rice terraces. Pictures cannot do it justice, but better than any words I could use.
Yesterday, we rented bikes and rode around the city. We were trying to find the Reed Flute Caves, but stumbled upon a village set between some of the mountains so we explored and were invited to eat lunch with the town, who eat together everyday. Despite the language barriers, I have never felt more welcomed. I have never been in a situation where perfect strangers invite others in for the sheet pleasure of feeding them and being in there company. I left more in love with China and it's people.
The cave was beautiful, but too commercialized in my opinion.
I still have two more days in Guìlín before I head back to Fuzhou. Instead of traveling during the day if Spring Festival (February 18), I will go to Doria's hometown to celebrate with her family, so I'll update (VPN and internet willing) once I get back to Fuzhou at the end of February.
If you've made it this far, keep in mind that everything I wrote was based on my experience in China, mainly Fuzhou. These in no way encompass all of the traditions and may not be accurate for everyone, but it's what I've experienced.
春节快乐 Happy Spring Festival!!