Student, professor share how holidays are celebrated in China

As Americans are getting into the holiday spirit, people across China are preparing to celebrate Spring Festival. The Spring Festival begins on the last day of the lunar calendar, which this year falls on Jan. 28, 2017.

While the holiday may last only one day, the Chinese get up to 15 days of time off for the holiday, which, much like Americans, they spend with family. While the celebrations of Spring Festival look different in each region of China, according to Assistant Professor of Marketing Cathy Zhang, spending time with family is one of the most important elements.

“We have a tradition that we greet our family members, especially our parents, as well as [our] grandparents,” Zhang said. “The first day [we spend] with my father’s parents, and then the second day we go to my mother’s parents to celebrate the event.”

Senior English literature major Karen (Yinan) Sun also spends time with her family during Spring Festival. Part of that time is spent honoring her ancestors.

“We eat with our father, mother and grandfather and grandmother,” Sun said. “If our ancestors have died, we will have a ceremony to remember them. We [also] celebrate like Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, and [in my home], we always watch TV. They have a TV show that has people sing and people dance and some traditional Chinese performances.”

Children often get excited about Spring Festival because it is a time to visit with relatives and cousins. When Zhang was growing up, China had a law that limited the number of children a couple could have to one child. Being an only child made Zhang and many others feel lonely, she said.

“For kids, it’s [the spring festival is] the best time in the year for us [because] we can get together, to play with each other,” Zhang said. “During Spring Festival, the whole family [would] get together [and] I had many cousins, so we could play around together.”

Luck is a central focus of the Spring Festival. As people look forward to the new year, they hope to find good luck and fortune. During the actual day of Spring Festival, the Chinese are not allowed to do any chores, especially sweep the floor, because they believe that will sweep their good luck and fortunate out the door, according to Sun.

Lucky money also plays a role in the Spring Festival. Children receive red envelopes from their parents, grandparents and other older relatives that contain sums of money. This is many children’s favorite part of the holiday, according to both Zhang and Sun.

“The gift money was one of my favorite parts,” Zhang said. “You can save a lot of money during that time. All the kids become so rich!”

The lucky money was also Sun’s favorite part, but she remembers a time when her parents kept the money for her.

“At first, when I was very young, my parents would not allow me to get much [lucky money],” Sun said. “They always said, ‘I will save it for you,’ like in [a] bank, but I have never seen it. Maybe that just [happened to] me, but now I am old enough to get my own lucky money.”

Food is also an important part of Spring Festival. In Zhang’s house, her mother always cooked, insisting on 10 different dishes, including fish, meat, and chicken. The family would come together and make dumplings as well. For Sun, steamed whole chicken and steamed pork were often on the menu, as well as other dishes that she and her relatives liked. Her family also made green dumplings for the holiday. Some Spring Festival meals also feature a pig’s head, Sun said.

“It’s disgusting, but some people like [to have] a pig’s head to put on the table to celebrate,” Sun said. “It’s not to eat; it’s only for luck, because pig means good luck.”

Now that both Zhang and Sun are in the United States, they miss Spring Festival celebrations. They are not able to travel home because the festival often falls during times when they have classes they cannot afford to miss. Zhang, who has lived in the United States for almost seven years, is now visited by her parents during Spring Festival. It is different from the celebrations she remembers in China, she said.

“In China, we have so many families there, so you can go to their family [home] to play with them or spend your time with them,” Zhang said. “But here, only my parents will come, so we don’t have any [big] family [celebrations] here.”

Since she has been in the United States, Zhang has celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas. This past November, she roasted her first turkey for Thanksgiving. Getting used to the different holiday traditions was difficult for her, she said.

“The biggest difference is [that] I was born and raised in China, so I know how to celebrate the Spring Festival,” Zhang said. “I [didn’t] know how to celebrate holidays here in the beginning because I didn’t know the traditions.”

Sun began celebrating U.S. holidays, such as Christmas, in China. While the traditions are not the same, the holidays are still recognized by many Chinese, she said.

“Many people like to celebrate Christmas [and] many western festivals, like Halloween and Valentine’s Day,” Sun said. “[For Christmas], we don’t do the same stuff like in America, but we like to celebrate. We will not have [a] Christmas tree or Christmas dinner; we only go out.”

The Chinese also celebrate other traditional holidays, such as Mid-Autumn Festival, which is held on the day in which the moon is the biggest and roundest. They eat mooncake, traditional filled pastries, and visit with family, according to Zhang.

The Dragon Boat Festival is another Chinese holiday, held on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. The Chinese race dragon-shaped row boats in remembrance of a disgraced man who jumped into the river, according to Sun. They also eat zongzi, a traditional Chinese rice pudding, to celebrate.

According to Sun, these smaller festivals are easy to forget. Some Chinese people do not celebrate them at all, but continue to work or attend school instead, but Spring Festival is never forgotten.

Having celebrated both the U.S. and Chinese holidays for multiple years, Zhang has found differences among them, especially between Spring Festival and Thanksgiving.

“A difference is, of course, different food,” Zhang said. “The Spring Festival is more like New Year; people kind of like looking forward to [the] new year. [It’s] not like Thanksgiving where people are always looking back [at] how many things [they have], how blessed we are. [With Thanksgiving] people go back to record a whole year.”

Zhang also has found similarities. In both the United States and China, holidays are a time to be spent with family.

“They all are family celebrations,” Zhang said. “It’s family time for everyone, regardless of whether its Spring Festival or Christmas.

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