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Have a dragon year!

ecember is the month China starts decorating itself. Every shop, office building, public site starts putting up Christmas trees, ‘Santa’s and reindeers. Surprisingly, not many Chinese celebrate Christmas as a festival in the way Christians would do; but the spirit is there everywhere – at least in the big cities. Much like in India I suppose, where people like an extended period of festive spirit (Navratri to Diwali can be taken as an example), the Chinese seem to like the festive mood that starts right from December and goes up to the spring festival in January/February. I have written about the spring festival earlier, when last year I had visited my friend at her Gansu province home to spend the Spring Festival with her and her family. This year, I asked my friends and colleagues about how they see customs changing with time. My colleague Jacob Jiang, university educated at Nottingham and a native of Dalian in the north, says that certain northern customs have remained unchanged such as the tradition of not getting a haircut in the month of the Spring Festival for fear of causing death to one’s maternal uncle. Irene, another colleague of mine who along with Jacob represents China’s new brigade of confident, fluent in English, Western-educated youth, says that with the advent of social networking, younger people are tending to celebrate Spring Festival ‘online’ with constant updates and greetings on media such as Weibo, QQ groups– as Spring Festival is celebrated mostly with family, social networking sites have provided an effective way of keeping in touch with friends made during university and work-life. Younger people are also getting less and less interested in watching the annual ‘CCTV Chinese New Year Gala’ broadcast by the Chinese national TV channel, CCTV, which was much anticipated every Spring Festival evening

and had become a custom since it started in 1983. With changes in society, it is but a given that the way Spring Festival is celebrated will continue to evolve. As young people go back to their hometowns, it is time not just for a re-union with families but also with old friends from school and the neighborhood. Many a strong friendship is re-affirmed and many lost romances are relived. If somebody is unable to make it back home, friends go to his/her parents instead to “bainian” or pay respects for the New Year. There is a custom to drink Chinese rice wine while paying New Year respects. This is a sort of a coming of age ceremony for young people when parents themselves offer the extremely strong rice wine to their children. Boys are even offered a smoke by the father when he is considered “grown-up.” Like in India, family is also very important in China. Chun Jie or Spring Festival is the time when the family cherishes some happy memories, eats sumptuous food and forgets its sorrows to welcome the New Year with great happiness, fire crackers and the colour red. To all my Chinese friends – zhu nimen chunjie kuai le!! And to my Indian ones – Naye saal ki shubhkamnaayen! And a very happy and prosperous New Year to you all!!! 

SUMELIKA BHATTACHARYYA Chronicle Bureau, Shanghai

April 2012  India-China Chronicle |64|



chapter17-Have a dragon year