As a child growing up in New York City, my exposure to the extravaganza that is “Chinese New Year,” “Lunar New Year,” or “Spring Festival” occurred in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Every winter, my parents would take me down to Chinatown where there invariably would be a lion dance then a dragon dance followed by a meal at “Excellent Dumpling House.” When I studied abroad in Kunming, I began to get a sense of the scale of the holiday when I was told that at Spring Festival time it would be wise to stock up on instant noodles, as all the restaurants and stores would be closed. This past winter, I’ve had Spring Festival put in relative terms to me as: “it’s like Christmas for us.”
This year, I got to spend my first ever Spring Festival in China at the Linden Centre. Although I’d never seriously celebrated the holiday in America, I suddenly found myself thinking of my family and missing home. Luckily for me, with all the activity going on at the Centre, I not only found myself busily distracted, but also with a little piece of home away from home.
除夕 Chu Xi – Lunar New Year’s Eve
I was told that New Year’s Eve is the most important and most celebrated day of the entire holiday, and that people often gather with family to eat and watch the gala on television. During the day I took pictures of kids and staff members alike having fun cutting out their “双喜” shuang xi (double happiness characters), and making their 对联 dui lian–red banners that are placed on the doorways of homes.
After the crafting activities came the ceremony to send off the new year. The Lindens performed a ritual which included bringing offerings to the local tiny temple that is now boxed in on all sides by newly built homes. As a part of the ceremony we burned colored paper that is meant to represent money. The ceremony concluded with Jeanee and Brian making offerings in the ancestor room of the Centre, which was also the ancestor room when the home belonged to Yang Pin Xiang.
After a delicious buffet dinner planned by our operations manager Kai Han Yang, we gathered on the back terrace for fireworks. This was the first time I’ve ever seen fireworks exploading directly over my head, and it was hypnotizing. Watching New Year’s fireworks spectaculars on TV somehow doesn’t hold a candle to watching separate sets of fireworks go off across a giant open field with the outline of the Cang mountains in the background.
The night concluded with a bit of the Gala; I joined just in time to catch the end of the ethnic minority dance segment as well as part of Chinese pop star Jay Chou’s performance.
Gala: Celebrity-packed extravaganza full of musical performances, acrobatics, and sketch comedy that I am not nearly fluent enough to find funny let alone understand.
初一 Chu Yi – New Year’s Day
In the evening, I did a little post-dinner dancing of my own. The Linden Centre’s own Zhang Jie is an avid practicer of 广场舞 guang chang wu or “square dancing,” which is essentially a form of light aerobic rhythmic dance that is practiced by aunties throughout China. It was a ton of fun to see younger guests and passerby’s joining in the dance, as we scrambled to mimic the moves of the much more practiced hands (or should I say, feet?) Unfortunately (or should I say fortunately?) no video evidence exists of this event.
初二 Chu Er – Second Day of the New Year
Day two started off with a bang. Literally. I arrived just in time to hear the firecrackers going off before the dragon–made up entirely of Bai female dancers–entered the Centre. The dance itself is an incredible thing to behold as the women move the dragon seamlessly in circles, around, under, and over each other within such a confined space. The dance is meant to bring blessings to the Centre for the new year, and concluded with Jeanee and Brian making offerings of brown sugar and red envelopes to the dragon.
The dragon dance was followed by a traditional Bai dance called “ba wan bian”. This traditional Bai dance originated as a war dance to scare off nomads, but is now practiced today in celebratory environments to welcome guests.
While I spent most of my day helping out in the bar, in the afternoon I was able to catch a glimpse of the ping pong competition which featured an interesting set of alternative paddles. Each contestant had to pick a random “paddle” in order to compete. These included things like a cutting board, a menu, and a even an electric mosquito killer.
初三 Chu San – Third Day of the New Year
The final day of new year’s activities wrapped up with a special twist on our daily morning market tour of Xizhou. Sadly, I was unable to attend this part of the day’s activities, but I enjoyed the Dong Jing music performance in the afternoon.
Dongjing music was traditionally performed by the Naxi ethnic minority, and was considered to be very exclusive. Only people of a certain status and only men were allowed to perform. Today Dongjing music is performed by other minority groups as well. A coworker of mine, Abigail, says Dong Jing music is her favorite type of traditional music, as she finds it both lively and exciting.
There was no champagne popping or massive crystal ball-dropping for this new year, but somehow it meant a lot more; for me, Lunar New Year felt more tangibly like a new start. Maybe it’s because it’s “my” year (the dog year), or maybe it’s because the people–from the guests to the locals flooding the market to buy their new years decorations–around me really made the difference. One evening, while sitting out on the terrace as the sun was setting behind the Cang mountains, I asked guests Steve and Glenda why they chose to spend New Year’s at the Centre. They said it boiled down to: “we’re serendipitous travelers.” They had planned to find someplace calm and quiet to go, and they happened upon our activities by chance, and in the end had a great time ringing in the new year with us.