Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!  Or in loosely translated terms: Happy New Year!  Traditionally, New Year’s Day  was called Yuan Dan.  Yuan means “the beginning”; Dan means “day”.  I’m fond of another interpretation: the first sunrise.

When the Chinese republic was established in the 1900′s it was renamed “Spring Festival”.  In relation to the Chinese calendar, dates are interconnected to the moods of the moon and the time of the solar year.  Quite often, Chinese New Year is referred to as the “Lunar New Year”.

So many abundant ways to describe it.  If I were to settle on one, mythology fascinates the most [1]:

“An ancient Chinese legend tells of a man-eating predatory beast called Nian, extremely fierce, with a long head and sharp horn. Nian dwelled deep in the sea the whole year long, but on every Chinese New Year eve it would climb onto the shore to devour livestock and harm humans in a near-by village. Therefore, every Chinese New Year’s Eve, all the villagers would take their old and young deep into the mountains to hide from Nian.

One Chinese New Year’s Eve a grey haired man appeared in the village. He asked permission to stay for the night and assured everyone that he would chase away the beast. No one believed him. In addition, the old man steadfastly refused to go to the mountains to hide. Seeing that he could not be persuaded, the villagers departed without him.

When the beast arrived at the village to wreck havoc as usual, it was met with a sudden burst of exploding firecrackers. Startled by the noise, the flashes of light and red banners flying about, it hastily turned and fled!

The following day, as the people returned from the mountains, they found the village intact and safe. The old man had left, but they found the remains of the three precious items he had used to chase the beast Nian away. They all agreed that the old man must be a deity who had come to help free them of the beast.”

That delightful tale set in motion what we witness today.  People shoot off firecrackers (or fireworks) usually in the early morning hours, though really it’s a practice done throughout the day (purchase a set of ear plugs!). Red banners are hung and lamps glow during the night to herald a new year, free of meddling spirits and open to receive fortune and good luck.

Dumplings or ‘jiaozi’ is the poster food for the festivities and most of my students rave about their mother’s special recipe.  I must admit I eat my fare share of jiaozi in the off-festival hours, so the lure of this popular dish wasn’t that mysterious to me.

The feeling permeating at the heart of Wuxi, also know as Nanchan Si, was wildly warm.  Chinese people work very hard and the next ten days is a chance to unwind, let loose and for once, be whimsical again.  Market and food stalls were at the ready.  Carnivalesque games were being tried by child and adult alike.

Though there are public activities and CCTV broadcasts parades with patriotic songs warbling as background music, truly the Spring Festival is mainly a family affair.

My students recall it as a time to gather all the generations in a central place, share tales, food and the ties of love.  I can go for that.

It’s 蛇 Shé — Year of the Snake, so if you are one, embrace it.  Could be full of excitement and bounty.  Though some businessmen and politicians are frightened of its bite.

Some images I managed to capture of the first few days.

DAYTIME

Jiangsu Province is known for the craft of ceramics.

These intrigued me. A snack of egg with a bit of meat or vegetables in the center.  For McDonaldphiles, the Chinese version of an Egg McMuffin.

This fella was cooking up a storm in his cowboy hat and dancing to Psy’s Gangnam Style – the song has dominated Chinese dance floors for months.  Bits of pork (possibly lamb) marinated with Làjiāo (chili seasoning).

Popular anytime, but why not at Spring Festival.  Oil drums recycled into stoves (ask author Nick Weston, he lived in a treehouse in the countryside of England, cooking and keeping warm with one).  Yams served up soft, piping and roasted.  One of my faves.

Shānzhā or hawthorn coated in sugary syrup, also known as Tanghulu.  Supposedly popular in northern China, but really, can be found in many cities.

This was my lunch.  Sources tell me mussels are not normal eats, so I got me some special Spring Festival foodie action.  Mussels grilled with green onions, slathered with a generous helping of fresh garlic and accented with Làjiāo.  I can say with confidence, the mussels metled in my mouth!

This bridge behind Nanchan Si is flourished with each animal of the Chinese zodiac.  I’m no sneaky snake, but I’m most definitely this.  Think I gotta lose weight.

NIGHTTIME

Gate of Nanchan Si — main square.

Nanchan Temple and Zijin Plaza in full regalia.

Qingmingqiao Bridge overlooking the Grand Canal.

Lanterns — Chong’an Temple.

A final canal view.

FIREWORKS

I promise, no more prattling.

I wish y’all a fortunate lunar year!  Cheers!