Now that Burns’ Night is behind us, I suppose you thought we were done with festivals for a while, think again because it’s only blooming time for the world’s biggest festival – Chinese New Year.
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, has its origins way back in the past, some say it began around 2300 BC! Chinese New Year (CNY) marks the start of the lunar calendar and is a festival intended to bring good luck for the year ahead. Celebrated on the second new moon after the winter’s solstice – meaning that it can fall anywhere between the 21st of January and the 20th of February – this year it fell right after Burns’ Night.
The Origin Story
The story goes that, years and years ago there was this village, the citizens of which would be terrorized by a mighty beast called the Nian on the second new moon after winter solstice each year. The Nian would kill livestock, children and generally wreck up the place. This state of affairs existed for years and years and the people of the village grew despondent. One year, as the second new moon was on its way, the villagers decided to abandon the town and hide in the nearby wilderness, the population gathered to go but one old man refuse to leave –
“I’m not going” he said,
“You’re a fool” the villagers said, or words to that effect and off they went.
As soon as the villagers were away the man started to hang red lanterns and paper all around the town as well as adorning each doorway with poems (also on red paper). After he finished, the old man grabbed a stack of firecrackers and lay in wait for the Nian monster.
When the monster finally showed up in the town the old man started to set off the firecrackers and bang drums. This, coupled with all the red around the town drove the monster utterly barmy. It turned out that the monster was petrified of loud noises and couldn’t stand the colour red and so it turned its tail and fled the town. When the villagers returned to the town, they noticed all the red paper hanging about the place and the used firecrackers lying on the floor and they realised that loud noises and the colour red would scare the monster away.
What Do People Do For CNY?
I can answer that in one word…Eat. Most festivals around the world involve eating but, CNY takes it to a different level. Having attended a CNY banquet in Taiwan, I can tell you that you won’t be hungry after you’re done at the table. Dumplings play a massive role in the meal as do other dishes such as Monk Jump Over the Wall (yep, that’s its name), whole steamed fish, Tang Yuan, long noodles and rice cakes.
The other main thing that people get excited about is exchanging red envelopes. Each Chinese New Year people exchange these envelopes for which there exist a huge number of rules of etiquette, generally speaking though, envelopes are given by older people to younger people. This means that young people (under 25) tend to look forward to CNY but older or married people tend to dread its arrival – much how I feel about Christmas.
In fact, CNY is pretty much the Chinese equivalent of Christmas but with more fireworks, dragons and it lasts a lot longer – traditionally CNY lasts fifteen days from start to finish, culminating in Lantern Festival.
Gung Haggis Fat Choy
I am by no means the first person to notice that CNY and Burns’ Night fall extremely close together; in fact Todd Wong created his own festival which seeks to blend the two cultures together. Todd was a student at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University when he was asked to help out with the annual Burns Night celebration, this seems to have sparked Todd’s imagination as a few years later he would host his own celebration; Gung Haggis Fat Choy – Gung Hey Fat Choy in Cantonese or Gong Xi Fa Cai in mandarin are greetings used around CNY to wish prosperity for the year ahead.
Gung Haggis Fat Choy has grown from being a dinner party for sixteen friends to being a festival celebrated all over Vancouver and even in Seattle. The festival includes events which seek to promote both Chinese and Scottish culture such as human curling and dragon boat carts. The festival also features food which attempts to fuse the two culture’s culinary traditions (haggis won tons being a prime example).
Todd has received numerous awards for his services to building cross-cultural ties and was even given the chance to meet Alex Salmond during his visit to Scotland for the homecoming year celebrations.
Here at ScotlandShop.com, we salute people like Todd Wong – we can all be proud of our culture, whether it be Scottish, Chinese, Australian or whatever… The important thing is to get excited about and embrace your heritage.