February 16th was more than just an extra day off from school. In fact, it is the start of the Chinese New Year, which is also known as the Spring Festival in China. This holiday is based on the lunar calendar, starting on a new moon and ending about two weeks. There are numerous festivities and celebrations throughout this time, many of which take place right here in New York City’s Chinatown. Here’s the scoop on how New York celebrates the holiday alongside a quarter of the world. 新年快乐! (Happy New Year in Chinese!)
- Firecracker Ceremony
- Celebrations kicked off at Sara D. Roosevelt Park with the lighting of 600,000 firecrackers. This ceremony is traditionally done to ward off evil spirits and unfriendly ghosts, since they would be scared off by the explosive sounds. The sounds were loud indeed, but definitely a sight to behold as they flew into the sky.
- Dragon Dance
- Looming on the stage was a golden dragon, looking out onto the crowd. The dragon is an important symbol in China. It is believed to symbolize nobility and fortune, as well as luck. To spread this luck onto the crowd, the dragon descended from its stage. A team held up the dragon by poles, manipulating it into shapes to make it seem as if it was dancing. They then walked amongst the crowd and all around the park. It is believed that the longer the dragon dance, the more luck it will bring.
- Lion Dance
- It is easy for those unfamiliar with the holiday to confuse a lion dance with dragon dance, due to elements in the costume that might resemble a dragon. While the Dragon danced amongst the crowd, lions joined in on the celebration. Lion dances also are said to bring luck to the crowd and scare away any evil spirits. The drum accompanied with the dance is said to be the lion’s heartbeat. The cymbal and gong help to scare away spirits. These lion dances also continued in the streets of chinatown, with multiple lions and drummers uptaking the streets and entering businesses. Handing a lion a red envelope, with money inside, is said to bring you luck for the rest of the year!
- Red Envelopes
- It is a custom to give red envelopes as gifts during the new year to wish the receiver another safe and peaceful year. They always contain money, but this is not the significance. Truly, it is the red paper that is believed to bestow more happiness and blessings on whoever receives it.
- Family Celebrations
- On the New Year’s Eve, a feast is held filled with foods each signifying something different. Jack Sze, a senior, explains the symbolism behind the dishes. Long noodles, he explained, are meant to represent a long life. Rice cakes are eaten for good fortune. “There is one fried fish dish that no one is supposed to eat. It signifies good harvest and a surplus for the year.”
- “There’s also a thorough cleaning of the house to start new year fresh” said Sze.
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