The Star (Nairobi)

9 February 2013

Kenya: Seasons Are Celebrations, and So Is the Chinese New Year - Happy Spring Festival

All Chinese people across the entire globe are uncharacteristically in a celebratory mood. Pockets are lined and business is booming as they begin to treat themselves with earthly pleasures and buying each other gifts.

Hundreds of millions of them are travelling across China from all over the country and the world to their hometowns and villages. The scene of passenger transportation in China is remarkable as the people are determined to get together with their families in what has come to be referred as the great annual Migration. It is the Chinese New Year, commonly referred to as Spring Festival.

Spring Festival marks the first day of the first Lunar month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. It usually falls somewhere between end of January and early February. The Chinese Lunar Calendar is based on the cycles of the moon and each twelve years of the lunar cycle are named after 12 animals: The Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar).

This year's festival will fall on the 10th of February and it marks the transition from the year of the dragon to the Year of the snake, 2013. Keeping with the ancient traditions and beliefs, the People born in the Year of the Snake are believed to share certain characteristics that relate to the snake. They are contemplative and private. The Snake is not outwardly emotional. They can appear cunning and reticent and work very modestly in the business environment.

Originally called "Yuandan", Yuan meaning "beginning" and dan meaning "morning"; Spring Festival symbolizes the breaking of a new dawn on the first morning of the New Year.

It is the grandest and most exciting festival for the Chinese, containing a long history of rich and cultural connotations. For thousands of years, China was an agricultural society with farming being the main economic activity.

The whole year's work depended on a good start in spring; a season for ploughing and weeding. As a matter of fact, modern day spring festival was in ancient times a series of sacrificial activities by which people hoped to bring about good weather and good crops in the New Year. It symbolized hope and rebirth.

Many traditions accompany the Spring Festival. Some are still followed today. A huge clean-up gets underway days before the Spring Festival. Houses are cleaned from top to bottom, to sweep away any traces of bad luck.

The ecstatic populace begins to embellish their sparkling rooms featuring an atmosphere of rejoicing and festivity. The doors and windows are then decorated with red paper-cuttings and couplets highlighting Chinese calligraphy with black characters on red paper, with themes such as happiness, wealth and longevity printed on them.

The Spring Festival eve, referred to as 'reunion night', is perhaps the most exciting part of the event as anticipation creeps in. This is when family members reconnect, catch up on the past year, have big family reunion dinners and stay up until midnight to see the New Year in. Family members and relatives, some who have travelled long distances to be together, gather to chat and play. Most of them stay up all night enjoying sumptuous meals like rice cakes and jiaozi, or dumplings.

Originally, jiaozi referred to the moment "across midnight". The Chinese name for the period between 11 pm and 1 am. The next morning is called zi and Jiao means "across" and later jiaozi became the name of the food cooked before midnight and eaten after it. Without eating Jiaozi, you are not celebrating the festival in the real sense of the world. A series of celebrating activities such as lion dancing, dragon dancing, Yangge dancing and temple fairs ensued.

Although celebrations of the Spring Festival vary, the underlying message is one of solidarity and happiness for family members and friends. It vividly portrays a key cultural element deeply rooted in Chinese traditional heritage, that is, harmony. A family is an important cell in the Chinese society and spring festival is basically a time to consolidate family ties and friendships.

For instance, on the first day of the New Year, people meet and celebrate by greeting each other. Children first go and greets their parents and grandparents in the morning, wishing them good health and a long life. In return, parents give some money in wrapped red-papers as gifts.

This symbolized success and abundance in the New Year. In the past, people of high standing would have their names and official positions written on red color paper or carved wood chips, and on New Year's Day; have them sent to friends. These were possibly the earliest New Year cards.

All activities during the spring festival centre on bidding farewell to the old and ushering in the New Year. With the opening up policy, globalization and modernization in China, New Year customs have transformed and become more interesting, attracting the attention of the whole world.

Tourists flock China to witness the spring festival celebrations. They flock China to see the spectacular firework displays, the colorful street parades, Shaolin martial arts performances and the Lion and dragon dances among other activities. The Festival has stepped out from China to overseas communities, and has become a cultural symbol for harmony and auspiciousness the Chinese community both at home and abroad. It serves as an important cultural bridge linking the Chinese people across the world.

In recent years, China has conducted cultural exchanges with other countries, including Kenya in a bid to deepen exchanges and cultural understanding between the people. This year, Kenyans will have the pleasure of witnessing and joining the Chinese community in commemorating spring festival.

The Chinese Embassy has organized a cultural performance dubbed "Embrace China & Happy Spring Festival" to carry forward and spread the Chinese culture and celebrate the Chinese New Year with overseas Chinese and friends. These celebrations will be held on February 16th, 2013, at the Moi International Sports Center, Kasarani from 3:30 pm to 6pm. It will feature groups consisting of talented artists, singers, dancers and acrobatics among other performers.

The only variation therefore between the Chinese Lunar New Year and the Gregorian New year is the date. Otherwise, the common overriding theme is thanksgiving and celebrations.

Just as the rest of the world celebrated their New Year in early January, it is time for the Chinese people to usher in the New Year with greater hope and enthusiasm. Indeed, a merry year is born, just like the bright berry from the naked thorn. Happy New Year! May the Chinese people be blessed with Peace, Prosperity and good Health, now and in the future.

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