China, the new year and a certain virus

Happy New Year! Yes, you read that right, Happy New Year. Although China follows the Gregorian calendar on a day-to-day basis, Chinese traditional celebrations follow the lunar calendar, therefore the 354 days of the year 4719 ends on January 31, 2021. 

I remember my anxiety and disappointment the first time I spent the end of the year here. Our celebrations (Christmas and New Year) were, perhaps, a failed attempt on the part of the stores, but people did not understand the concept of our traditions and to this day it is not popular. My first New Year (December 31) here, I spent it alone, at home, and with half a dozen fireworks that I could hear. The next day was an international holiday, but many places went about their normal routine as if it were a day like any other.

In January, It didn’t take long for the city to start gaining more shades of red, not only the streets but the houses, shops, clothes, everything. People exchanged gifts, smiled, and wished each other a happy new year, restaurants were always full of company dinners. I confess that as much as I tried to understand, there was something strange about all that. It is like the Chinese celebrate Christmas and New Year together.

Beijing 2014
Guiyang 2022

On the eve of the new year (Chinese), once again I was alone at home, ready to sleep, it was still fifteen minutes to midnight and I could hear the first firework, it was at least 40 minutes of a lot of noise and different lights illuminating my bedroom window. It was a bittersweet taste for the unexpected days off (I knew very little about China when I came here), but at the same time sadness to know that everyone was celebrating with their families and I was alone once again.

The next day I was invited to participate in one of the traditional New Year’s activities, making dumplings. They showed me how to make the dough, the ingredients, the texture, the filling, everything. They even let me try to make some, but it wasn’t even close to their skilled hands. Of course, we ate and I was able to take some home, after all, Chinese New Year is a seven day-holiday, although some people can celebrate it longer, others less.

Over the years, I got used to not celebrating Christmas and New Year as much and looking forward to the holidays that came along with Chinese New Year. I was already better prepared, I knew that even the big supermarkets wouldn’t be open on the first day and that the red that already occupies a significant space in China, would get even more intense.

In addition to a different new year, China also has a different zodiac, based on the year of your birth rather than the month. The next year that begins in February is the beginning of the year of the Tiger and I am a tiger. I’ve never cared much for the sign, I confess that I’m “suspicious” with an ascendant in “laziness”, but I think this year I wanted to try. 

According to my Chinese friends, during the year of your zodiac animal, you have to wear red all year round, I was told that it can be a challenging year and red brings luck, so it is almost a protection against anything bad that may happen this year. People prefer to wear underwear and socks because no one needs to know about your private life (I think that’s fair!). So I went online shopping, I confess that the market for products for your zodiac animal is absurdly charming. There are kits to give away, clothes, jewelry, decoration, nothing is left out. 

Just when I thought I was prepared and in advance, my Chinese sister (a topic for another day) said that my family had to participate in buying my clothes. I’m not sure if that part is true, but I figured it was her way of being a part of this moment with me (which I really appreciate her for that). In addition to socks, she also gifted me with a red anklet. I think I will be able to spend the whole year in red.

In 2020, I returned from a trip the day before Chinese New Year, it was impossible not to notice that the atmosphere in the city was different, no one still knew exactly what was happening and the proportion it would take. I still remember, as if it were yesterday, talking to my parents and saying that it was a slightly stronger flu and that we were wearing a mask as recommended (it was still not mandatory). The city, like the entire country, took time to recover, the shops that had closed for the celebrations did not open on the date that the notices marked on the door, the city looked like a movie scene, with few people and cars on the streets and most of the shops closed. The Chinese New Year 2021 was pretty quiet and with very little to celebrate, few people traveled, shops weren’t closed for that long and it looked like people were still trying to recover from the financial and emotional shock that the virus brought.

At least where I live today, the situation has been under control for at least a year. Schools and commerce worked normally, there is still the recommendation for the use of the mask and control over travel, but it is a new normal that we have gotten used to. 

Although the recommendation this year is to avoid traveling, even if the virus is still around despite all the government’s measures so that it does not become a problem of the same proportion as the previous year, it is possible to see that most people have found reasons to celebrate the new year. The city is full of red, yesterday the supermarket was very busy, people wish each other a happy new year, there is always someone walking around with one or many boxes to gift in the new year and taking a taxi is a nightmare.

This year I’m not going to spend it alone, because I’m happy to have my son living with me, I’m going to wait until midnight to put on my anklet and my red sock, and even though it’s not a holiday that is part of my culture, I hope to be able to respect the traditions of the country that has been my home for a while now.

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