Life in China: A Picture A Day, February 21, 2016

The traditional end of the Spring Festival celebration will be tomorrow, Monday, February 22, on what is called 元宵节 yuán xiāo jié or “Lantern Festival.” It is the first full moon of the new year, 15 days after the new moon which began the new year. This is also considered the start of spring.

Solving lantern riddles is a popular activity for the Lantern Festival. Riddles are written on papers attached to lanterns (originally they were written on the lanterns), if you think you know the answer, you take the paper down, and if you are correct, you get a small gift. This tradition dates way back to the Song Dynasty from 960-1279.

Since the children here return to school tomorrow, the management where we live had a little “party” this afternoon. Riddles to answer, a snack, and also there were people doing shoe repair, clothes mending and knife sharpening (and they were all busy!).

The riddle in the picture says “a bowl of rice gruel poured on a head (clue: a celebrity)” The answer is
周润发Zhou Run Fa, an actor, because “zhou” with a different character, but same tone, can mean rice gruel, “run” can mean moist, and “fa” can mean hair. You can see some of these aren’t easy to understand if you don’t know Chinese culture! Other riddles were about animals, place names, songs, etc. (Thanks to my daughter Leah for the riddle explanation)

Life in China: A Picture A Day, February 19, 2016

Red Lanterns are a universal symbol of Chinese culture. Lanterns are seen throughout the year in China, and during special occasions like weddings, but red ones especially are seen during Chinese New Year, as they symbolize good fortune. If you’ve followed my pictures the past month, you’ve already seen quite a few red lanterns! They are pretty much everywhere you go during Spring Festival in China. Many homes and businesses keep them hanging year round, and Spring Festival is the time to purchase new ones. Red lanterns come in many sizes and shapes, although round is the most popular. They can be plain, have pictures or calligraphy, and usually have gold or red tassels hanging from the bottom.

God of Wealth

Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 12 - Today is the 5th day of the Chinese New Year and the day considered to be the birthday of the God of Wealth. In many places, the day is welcomed in with abundant fireworks to honor and please this God. He is seen frequently in Chinese New Year decorations, often with coins or yuanbao. Many people will also eat dumplings called jiaozi today because they are shaped like yuanbao. (check picture from Jan. 21)


I’ve always loved daffodils, so it’s the one flower I especially like to buy each year at the Spring Festival Flower Fair. In Chinese, it is called shui xian 水仙, which is literally “water immortal” and the English translation is often either “water fairy flower” or just “water narcissus”. They are put in shallow bowls, of all sizes, with just water or water and pebbles. It is believed that if they bloom on New Year’s Day, it will bring good fortune for the upcoming year, so, they are cultivated very carefully to do just that; And mine did have its first few blooms on New Year’s Day, today there are many more! The blooms are quite small and have a very sweet smell. I bought a small dish with a dozen bulbs and it cost 20rmb or about $3usd. Sometimes, you will also see “narcissus carving” where the bulbs have been cut a certain way in order to bloom with a certain curve, then they are put in a dish to grow as a bird or something else. I found this interesting article about the Chinese bringing daffodil bulbs to the USA in the late 1800’s:


Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 9 - If you’ve read what I’ve previously shared about gold and fish… I’m sure you'll understand why goldfish are considered to be “lucky fish!” What better activity for kids (and adults!) at a New Year’s celebration than fishing for goldfish! There is a food fair, with some carnival type games, at our nearby shopping plaza and this “fish pond” is set up there. I’ve seen fishing like this at quite a few other places throughout the year, but in much smaller pools!


Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 1 - Happy Chinese New Year! Fireworks are a HUGE part of the Chinese New Year celebration! Here in Songshan Lake, the real firecrackers started about 10 am on New Year’s Eve and went off every so often throughout the day. Then the frequency picked up about 10pm and just before midnight, they were constant. But, it was nowhere near as noisy as other places we’ve lived. I remember our first Chinese New Year in Shanghai where it seemed like a war zone! The practice of setting off fireworks comes from an ancient myth about a monster named “Nian,” the same word for “year.” He came once a year and attacked and killed villagers and their livestock as the New Lunar year arrived. An old man supposedly figured out that Nian was afraid of loud noises, lights and the color red. So, each year, houses are decorated with red, and fireworks are set off to scare away the “evil spirits”. This morning, I took a walk, and if the red paper left from the fireworks is any indication, the people living here were successful at scaring Nian away! In modern times, fireworks are popular as decorations as well as the real ones.

Fish Decorations and as Food

Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 7 - One of the most popular sayings for Chinese New Year is “Nian nian you yu 年年有余” The basic meaning of this is “May you have abundance through every year.” The word for abundance, surplus, or plenty, is “yu.” This sounds the same as the word “yu ” which means fish, so, you can see why fish are such popular decorations during Spring Festival! Today is New Year’s Eve in China and families will gather for their “reunion dinners.” A very important dish to serve is fish, usually served whole as a symbol of prosperity, with the head and tail representing the beginning and ending of the year. A portion of the fish is saved for finishing in the new year, indicating that there is “surplus” for the New Year!

New Clothes

Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 6 - On Chinese New Year, It’s important for everyone to wear a complete outfit of new clothes, as it symbolizes a new start for the new year. In the stores, you see much more traditional style clothing than at other times, and of course the favorite color is red! Gold is also popular, and pink and purple for girls and ladies. Many people prefer Western styles nowadays, it seems the traditional styles are most popular for children. Colors can also vary, but the big no-no’s are black and white, these are the colors symbolizing funerals and death and are believed to bring bad luck if worn on New Year’s Day. Many people also have their hair washed and cut just before the New Year. Washing it on New Year’s Day is believed to wash away your luck, and using scissors for anything the first few days of the new year is considered bad luck because you are “cutting” your wealth.

Spring Festival Flower Fair

Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 4 -Today we went to the Dongguan Spring Festival Flower Market or Flower Fair. I love these because there are so many beautiful flowers and other interesting things to look at! Since flowers represent the arrival of spring, they are a very important part of the Spring Festival celebration. Probably the most popular flowers are orchids and daffodils. The daffodils aren’t blooming yet, because they are supposed to bloom for New Year’s Day. In addition to flowers, there are Spring Festival decorations, gift items, toys for the children, cuttings from fruit trees, orange trees, nipplefruit “trees”, snacks and more! This particular fair is only open for one week. I bought some daffodils, colored pussy willows, a small plant that translated to “long life plant”? and some small hexagonal lantern decorations. It was really hard to choose a few pictures to represent this! If you are interested in seeing more pictures of the Flower Market, my daughter has started a blog and has quite a few pictures she posted.

Chili Pepper Decorations

Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 3 -There is a Chinese idiom 红红火火 hóng hóng huǒ huǒ , literally “red red, fire fire.”

As you know by now, red is a very lucky, or auspicious color in China, and fire is considered to be very energetic. When you tell a person or business “hóng hóng huǒ huǒ”, it’s the equivalent of telling them “good luck.” During Chinese New Year, strings of chili peppers are used to represent this idiom.

Spring Blossoms

Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 30 - Spring Blossoms - As I said before, Chinese New Year is called “Spring Festival” in China. This is perfect for the region we are in, as many of the flowering trees have buds or blooms, but I’m not so sure about northern China…it’s always very cold there during Spring Festival! The flower picture on the bottom is a peach blossom; when I walked by the lake today, there were quite a few trees just starting to bloom. The tree in the center top photo is an artificial peach tree on display at our local shopping plaza. The two side photos, I believe, represent cherry blossoms, the left is plastic beads and cotton with a lotion display at the grocery store, and on the left is an ad in the McDonalds window. Blossoms are important for Chinese New Year because if there are no flowers, there will be no fruit, so, they indicate growth. And did you notice that they are all PINK! Peach blossoms also symbolize romance. Different blossoms have different meanings, and their fruit have additional meanings. I found one place that said you should never show one single blossom in a painting/picture because it indicated early death! Hopefully I won’t offend my Chinese friends with this lone blossom! At least there is a bud next to it :-)

Lion Dancers

Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 29 - We went to a Chinese New Year party at a Mexican Restaurant and they had some lion dancers performing. Lion dancers need a good amount of space, so they couldn’t do much in a restaurant, but it was fun to have them so close, and they did more just outside the front door. Lion dancers are a big part of Chinese New Year, as the dances are traditionally done to scare away evil spirits. There are many details about them, too many to list here! If you are interested in learning about the lion dancers, this is a great video explaining about the costume parts and how they work:
Here is a slideshow of some lion dancers from a performance we saw last year:
Photo credit to Leah — at El Calliente, Dongguan, Guangdong, China.

Red Clothing

Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 28 - The traditional belief of the Chinese is that during the year of your zodiac sign, you will have bad luck…. But, you can wear red all year to change this! As you should know by now, red is THE color for everything lucky during Chinese New Year! In modern times, many people no longer believe as strongly in the traditional beliefs, but this one is fun :-) Luckily, red looks great on Chinese people, and, if they get tired of wearing red clothes every day, hopefully they have their red undergarments, socks, or jewelry. The key to these red items changing bad luck to good, is that someone else buys them for you; It doesn’t work if you buy them for yourself! The upcoming year will be the year of the Monkey, so, if you are close to a monkey, join in the Chinese celebrations and buy them some red underwear!
Years of the Monkey: Feb.20,1920-Feb.7,1921, Feb.6,1932-Jan.25,1933, Jan.25,1944-Feb.12,1945, Feb.12,1956-Jan.30,1957, Jan.30,1968-Feb.16,1969, Feb.16,1980-Feb.4,1981, Feb.4,1992-Jan.22,1993, Jan.22,2004-Feb.8,2005

Fruit Trees for CNY

Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 27 - Oranges, tangerines, and kumquats are popular decorations at Chinese New Year for a couple of reasons. First, their color is associated with gold, therefore representing abundance and wealth. Second, their names in Chinese sound similar to the words for “luck” and “wealth.” Orange trees are grown in pots especially for display in, or outside of homes and businesses at Chinese New Year, or to be used as gifts. They are often decorated with red envelopes and small lantern decorations. Because these are grown quickly with large amounts of fertilizers, it is not recommended to eat the oranges grown on these decorative trees. We have a small park area within our housing community where there are orange trees growing, and it seems that people have been enjoying the oranges!