春节 （the Spring Festival）or the 农历新年 (the Lunar New Year) is fast approaching! The new year of the dog begins Friday the 16th of February, with the first new moon of the year. The holiday can fall between the 21st of January and the 20th of February. People start to celebrate the day before the New Year and continue until the 15th day – the Lantern Festival. This year the Lantern festival takes places on the 2nd of March, when people will release red Lanterns to symbolise letting go of the past and moving on into the new year!
Chinese New Year and the Chinese Zodiac
The Chinese zodiac is divided into 12 animals; similar to the 12 Western Zodiacs, however each Zodiac represents a year as opposed to a month. This passes in cycles with each year also being associated with an element. 2018 will be the year of the Earth dog, which is the 11th animal in the 12-year cycle.
Your Birth Year ‘本命年’:
The year you are born in decides your zodiac and you won’t be in your zodiac year again for another 12 years! Surprisingly, your zodiac years are the considered the unluckiest in your life and unfortunate events in this year could have lasting effects on you for the rest of your life! So, you are suggested to take extra care to avoid incurring bad luck. Many Chinese people will buy lucky items as talismans, such as red underwear with lucky characters stitched on.
There are also lucky numbers, cardinal directions and colours associated with your zodiac. 3, 4 and 9 are lucky for people born in the year of the dog, as are the colours green, red and purple.
The Origins of Chinese New Year
Every year around the new Lunar Year, a mythological beast called Nian was said to come and lay waste to towns and eat people, particularly children. Everyone would hide from the beast until he left. One year an old man appeared and refused to go into hiding, and decided he wanted to get revenge on the Nian. He put red papers up around the door of his house with lucky symbols and set off loud firecrackers. The day after, the villagers discovered that their town wasn’t destroyed. They believed that the old man was in fact a god that came to save them. The villagers then realised that the the colour red and loud noises deterred the beast. Next New Year the villagers hung up red lanterns, wore red clothes, and placed red character scrolls on windows and doors, and they set off firecrackers to frighten away the monster. Ever since, Nian never returned to scare the villagers!
Characters on the Door
You will see Chinese phrases on red scrolls around doorways, such as ‘出入平安’ , meaning peace wherever you go. The most common character is ‘福’ Fú which means fortune or luck. It is often placed in the centre of the door to ones home, and sometimes you will see that the character has been placed upside down. This is because by placing it upside down there is an added meaning to the character:
Homonyms are common in Chinese language. The Chinese expression ‘福倒了‘ and ’福到了‘ sound identical, so to have 福 upside down also means to have fortune arrive.
New Years Day Celebrations
On New Years day young family members are given red envelopes called hongbao (‘红包) filled with money, fireworks are set off, dumplings are devoured and relatives are put up with. It is a time when Chinese families reunite, with some people travelling vast distances to see their family. The Spring festival period is host to the largest migration of people on earth, with almost 3 billion journeys being made!
Here are some common greetings to say on the New year:
Taboos to avoid doing on the first day of the festival:
- Debt: You should not lend money on the day, and debts should be paid before New Year’s Eve.
- Washing hair: you’ll wash away your wealth for the year.
- Sharp objects: if you cut yourself it is extremely unlucky.
- Sweeping and cleaning: If you sweep up then your wealth will be swept away.
- Theft: If someone steals from you then your wealth for the year will be ‘stolen.’
- Killing anything: Similar to sharp objects, anything associated with blood is very bad luck.
- Taking Medicine: you’ll be ill all year.
- Monochrome clothing: White and black are the colours associated with sorrow in China.
- Giving specific types of gifts: scissors, clocks, or anything with the number 4 (it sounds like death 死) and shoes (they sound like evil!)
Have a happy New Year and remember, watch out for evil shoes!
Jazz. Its past its prime, right? While the mainstream may view jazz as old fashioned and dreary, it ‘s actually constantly evolving. No longer just a feature of dusty records tucked away in dimly lit bars. Both on and off the stage it is increasing in popularity, with R&B favorites like Kendrik Lamar heavily collaborating with the genre and jazz festivals being a common feature of summer in many cities.
A far cry from Kenny G and elevator music, live Jazz now represents a chance to witness something unique. The artists build beats between themselves and vibe off each other to make spontaneous music that excites the audience. In the age of over synthesized vocals and manufactured beats of EDM that build but never drop – no matter how long you bob your head up and down waiting in anticipation – live Jazz is a refreshingly unpredictable alternative.
Zhuhai’s Jazz Bar and Festival
With this in mind, the bustling popularity of Zhuhai’s Jazz bar is understandable. Linked with the contemporary music institute, it boasts extremely talented musicians at the forefront of China’s Jazz music scene. Every Friday and Saturday the house band starts at 9pm and by 10 the crowd spills out of the door onto the street, beers in hand. The band consistently deliver an entertaining show, with guest performers and jamming sessions to keep each night diverse. With an audience of loyal regulars, its a great way to integrate with the community and even meet the band.
In alliance with the institute, Beishan Hall offers an annual international music festival with a line-up of musicians travelling from all corners of the globe.
This year boasted an intercontinental line up with an eclectic mix of sub genres gracing the stage. Serbian band Eyot known for their breakdown of Balkan beats, gospel inspired Cannobal from Australia, Canadian Academy Award winners Born to be Blue Quartet to name a few. Film, theater and dance also contributed to the stellar program. With the sky and stars as a backdrop, it promises to be a spectacle of talent and soul every year.
Zhuhai offers an opportunity to witness how the genre has developed in the east. Amidst the heavy boom of Chinese DJ’s in nightclubs – which are nonetheless an experience not to be missed – the Jazz scene of Zhuhai offers a somewhat smoother alternative for locals and ex-pats alike.
Festival tickets start from CYN180
On the eve of 31 October, many Western countries come alight with the glow of countless jack-o’-lanterns that signify the arrival of Halloween. In China, Halloween celebrations among the younger generation are gradually becoming more and more popular. Kids’ Halloween parties and pumpkin-carving is becoming a favourite with less conservative parents in big cities. Nonetheless, apart from a few expat-oriented bars and pubs, the practice of dressing-up is nowhere near as widespread as in the West.
There is, however, no shortage of traditional festivals dedicated to the dead in Chinese culture. In fact, the majority of festivals contain an element of sacrificing offerings in the form of money, food and wine to deceased ancestors. Qing Ming Festival, Ghost Festival and Spring Festival are among the better-known ones.
The Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost festival, falls on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month. It stems from Taoist and Buddhist belief that on this day the gate that separates the world of the dead from the world of the living opens, and ghosts are believed to visit the living in their homes. To appease the hungry ghosts, their living descendants prepare elaborate feasts and burn joss paper. In many ways, the Hungry Ghost festival is similar to Halloween in the West.
The Qing Ming Festival is celebrated 108 days after the winter solstice. During the Qing Ming Festival, unlike during the hungry Ghost festival, the living visit the dead at their graves and bring offerings in the form of food, wine and chopsticks. They sweep the graves and burn joss money and firecrackers.
The Spring Festival, the most well-known among all Chinese festivals, is celebrated at the turn of the Chinese lunar calendar. Traditionally, the Spring festival was a time to honour deities as well as ancestors. During the Spring festival, the whole family gathers from different cities and provinces for a reunion. Offerings to ancestors play a big part in the proceedings. The lunar calendar is consulted about the specificities of which way to face when bowing and making offerings. Traditionally, dumplings (jiaozi) are offered to the ancestors to invite them to join in the festivities.
There is a distinctive difference between Chinese and Western cultures in the way they interact with ghosts. While in Western culture Halloween is the height of human-ghost interaction, in Chinese culture deceased ancestors play a much larger part throughout the year. The interaction between the dead and the living is not limited to a few select days in the year. People commonly burn joss paper and offer wine at street corners. Although strict guidelines that guide the process of interaction are put in place in the cities, people that live in the countryside have a much closer relationship with their dead ancestors. We only need to look at how graves form a natural part of the architectural landscape in the countryside to see that the divide between dead and living is nowhere near as defined as it is in the West. For the Chinese, it is not just during Halloween that the worlds of the living and the dead come together.
On the seventh day of the 7th lunar month the Chinese people usually celebrate Qixi Festival. This is a Chinese festival that celebrates the annual meeting of a cowman and weaver girl in Chinese mythology. It is nowadays called the Chinese Valentine’s Day, too.
The earliest-known reference to this famous myth dates back over 2600 years ago, the festival originated from the romantic legend of two lovers, Zhinü and Niulang, who were the weaver maid and the cowman. Their love is forbidden, thus they were banished to opposite sides of the Silver River (Milky Way). Once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, a flock of magpies would form a bridge to reunite the lovers for one day.
Traditionally on the day young girls go to the local temple to pray to Zhinü for wisdom and true love. As in the ancient China marriage almost determines a woman’s course of life. Nowadays the Chinese girls don’t want to be dependent on their husbands anymore.
But the festival still maintains its good will for true love. It’s fair to call it Chinese Valentine’s Day. On this day couples usually go out to have dinner or see a movie.
However, there has been criticism that the festival has lost it’s roots and turning westernized and commercialized.
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