January 31st marks the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival. In 2014, this means bidding farewell to the year of the snake and welcoming the horse (two animals in the calendar's 12-year cycle). An estimated 3.6 billion people have traveled or will travel home to celebrate with their families.
For IES Abroad students studying in China this semester, it is both thrilling and enlightening to participate in the country's age old traditions. All students were warmly invited to join their host families' celebrations, including those who live in dormitories.
IES Abroad Beijing Associate Director, Zhao Ning, explains that many families begin preparing for the Spring Festival seven days in advance. "On [January] 23rd, people worship the Kitchen God by eating Tangguar, a stick candy believed to be able to stick to the God's mouth, so that he won't report the bad things [that] happened in the family during the entire year to the God in Heaven.
"The 24th is the cleaning day, and every family needs to clean the house by hoping they will get rid of the dirty [and] unlucky stuff from the house for the new year. The 25th, [they] stew meet for the entire family for 5 days. On the 26th, people prepare enough tofu. On 27th, [they] slaughter roosters and cook, and on the 28th and 29th, people get flour dough fermented and make enough steamed bread.
"On the 30th, which is New Year's Eve, people have a family banquet which lasts for the entire evening and closes by dumpling eating at 12:00 am sharp and lighting fireworks. On the first day of the new year, we will go to visit relatives as well as friends to wish everyone happy new year."
IES Abroad Beijing blogger, Alexa Penton, shares photos and a video of the meal she shared with a classmate's host family, followed by fireworks just outside their window. She and her fellow students participated in activities at the IES Abroad Center earlier this week, including paper cutting and fu (fortune) writing on red paper, Majiang and Chinese Poker playing. They decorated the Center with lanterns and red paper decorations and were taken to a temple fair earlier today.
Some 1300 miles southwest of the capital city, students in the IES Abroad Kunming program were also celebrating, Yunnan style. According to IES Abroad Kunming Student Affairs Coordinator, Will Feinberg, a luxurious meal, "heavy on meat," is eaten on New Year's Eve, and many partake in the activity of rolling dumplings. Dumplings, he says, "traditionally represent gold coins, meaning that whoever consumes dumplings will get rich in the next year." It is also not uncommon to eat raw sugarcane, a seasonal treat.
Kunming blogger, Sam Kennedy, observes, "Nearly all of the shops and restaurants of Cultural Alley are closed for the holiday, and the ones that are open have begun playing holiday music." Sam and his classmates are encouraged to explore the Yunnan province during a 10-day vacation, including such destinations as Hekou, Luxi, and Lijiang.
Although the IES Abroad Shanghai semester program has not yet begun, Shanghai blogger, Natalie Lau, is already in Shanghai with her family. Together, they enjoyed dinner at a restaurant on Huaihaizhonglu, one of the city's most famous shopping streets. After dinner, they sang karaoke.
There is no question that students in all three IES Abroad host cities have embraced the customs surrounding this joyous holiday. Follow our bloggers' journeys as they continue their semesters in China.