China is so big and diverse, that there are thousands of ways to celebrate the very same festival. But they share one common purpose—to wish luck in the new year, by all sorts of means.
The Chinese New Year (CNY) preparation really starts before the winter solstice here, because that is the time with the best sunshine and crispiest air for Chinese bacon—the hanging meat. You will see long strips of fat, greasy and dark meat, merrily dangling everywhere above or around your head. These local treasures will be the highlight of a dinner table in the next three months.
One month ahead of CNY, people really get busy. Since all businesses shut down during the main week, locals must purchase everything they need in advance from ingredients, snacks, fruits and candies, to clothes and joss paper for the rituals. Grandmas used to make special fried rice cookies, sweet and savory deep-fried dough and dumplings at home with their daughters-in-law and kids playing around, who always tried to sneak a bite. Each of these snacks implies a good meaning for health and wealth. It’s very important to take that giant wok out from the warehouse once a year and fill it with oil and dough, which symbolizes a rich new year.
Nowadays, very few families bother to make all these local treats from scratch, as they have become available in the local markets. Since most of them can’t be found in supermarkets, people actually need to go to Guancheng, the old city area of Dongguan, to shop. And it’s also the place to buy religious supplies for various occasions from the evening before CNY to the end of the first month.
Meanwhile, it’s time for the big, grand clean-up operation. It’s a massive project with constant mopping, sweeping, swiping, scraping and rubbing. You don’t want to welcome the new year with blackened walls or dusty windows. Furthermore, new poetry couplets should be replaced afterwards. Before printing was convenient, they used to be handwritten—some people still prefer this way—resulting in personal auspicious poetry.
It’s very important to take that giant wok out from the warehouse once a year and fill it with oil and dough, which symbolizes a rich new year.
A busy month has flown by and here comes the eve of Chinese New Year, which means it is time to unite. After an entire morning of prayers and ceremony, people finally enjoy the offerings, which often include a whole chicken. Before the big dinner, kids have a task to do. It’s known as “sell laziness,” meaning they should do a ritual to get rid of their laziness for the coming year and become diligent in their studies. They will carry a cooked duck egg containing a lit incense stick inserted in the top, while walking around their house and singing a folk rhyme. Then they devour the egg. Also on the same day, people will hide all brooms for the following three days because they are expecting gold and good luck to come to their homes and don’t need a broom to sweep them away.
Another popular tradition of Dongguan is offering the first incense stick in the city’s most sacred Buddhist temple in Qifeng Park, which is considered extremely blessed. Every year, lines of cars and flocks of people flood towards the Guanyin (Buddhist) Temple to light up their first incense of the year, with their desired new start in mind. In the following days, the temple is always surrounded by rising and twisting mist and smoke. That’s because people realize their wishes and come back to reward the deity.
In Chinese tradition, having male offspring is honorable and worth celebrating. Thus, in Dongguan’s villages, if any villagers gave birth to a baby boy in the past year, locals will light up lanterns and throw banquets to share
the joy during CNY. It’s called “Kaideng”(开灯), literally meaning “open lantern.” The biggest octagon lantern, at more than 1 meter in diameter, must be hung in the village’s ancestral hall; medium-sized and smaller ones will be placed within the new babies’ families and other temples. So, don’t be surprised to be invited to a local friend’s “open lantern” banquet during this time.
In order to give a “full-end” to the Chinese New Year, on the last day of the first month, locals will steam a full bowl of minced pork and eggs.