This year’s countdown to Christmas seemed like an eternity as it started unofficially late September when a local pub, The Fleming Arms, beat its rivals to promoting its Christmas dinner. Whenever I drove by and stopped for a red traffic light, I could see those competitive figures on the board, braving the wind outside the pub.
Eventually in the lead-up to the biggest UK festival, kids are gorging themselves on the last few chocolates in Advent calendars and the shopping malls with shoppers shouldering their way through the crowds are filled with Christmassy atmosphere. Suddenly, those notoriously dark wintery late afternoons seem no more a problem as cities are illuminated with the Christmas lights in all forms of bog-standard LED bulbs or a Santa travelling in a sleigh pulled by reindeers.
Behind these lights, blissful and festive vibes inside the houses cascade from the Christmas trees with baubles, beads, snowflakes, snowmen, birds, stars and angels, etc., and a slew of gifts wrapped up and placed under the trees. A couple of strings of Christmas cards across mantelpieces with seasonal wishes penned by the family and friends jig in the warm air baked by the fire in hearths. The TVis bombarded with the Christmas cookery shows of James Martin, Jamie Oliver and Mary Berry, etc. …
On Christmas day all the family members feel enraptured, wolfing down traditional Christmas turkey dinner. The clink of wine glasses, together with laughers to pull Christmas crackers to read out funny notes, echoes in the air.
After the Christmas feast, the kids forage their entertainment whereas some adults may await the Queen’s Christmas speech. Sprawling on the settees and fiddling with wine glasses, the Christmas celebrators can finally start enjoy a chaos-free Christmas afternoon and probably next day indulge themselves with a shopping spree of Boxing Day sales...
The reminiscence about my first Christmas celebration in the UK is still vivid and I was surprised to see the Christmas celebration ended in a twinkling. Back in China, Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, as important as Christmas, has a span of 15 days and the 7-day leave’s celebration.
The Chinese adopt a lunar calendar to define all the traditional holidays so Spring Festival shows no fixed date each year on a western calendar and falls on 28th, January in 2017.
To sweep and dust an entire house is a heavy chore but a traditional custom to remove bad luck from the past year. To cram into the clean house with good fortune, the Chinese have red couplets hung up across its main door frames, folk paintings and pictures pinned on the indoor walls and window panes. The house decorated with bold, busy and red objects and articles indicates the ideas of luck, health and wealth.
The Chinese character 福fú (luck）hung upside down on the walls can be found in most households as it plays on words and means luck has arrived. Lanterns are also a centrepiece of New Year’s ornaments and gentle flicker of the light from the lanterns hanging on the balcony ceilings looks like a beacon to direct travellers to come home for a yearly reunion.
The Chinese New Year’s Eve banquet is paramount of the celebration. People used to work days and days to prepare and the dinner was just like feeding time at the zoo. More people today prefer visiting and eating in a restaurant. The northerners and southerners vary in choices of cuisines but fish is must-have for everyone as the Chinese words of fish and surplus are homophones so eating fish symbolizes an abundant year to come.
Every year China CCTV hosts New Year celebration TV show, Spring Festival Gala, which is on everyone’s lips beforehand. Everyone watches it after the eve dinner although they always pull some performers to pieces. The Northern families often make dumplings at this time. You can often see one person is busy with rolling the dumpling pastry while the rest can’t help rolling in the aisles at funny crosstalk on TV. Dumplings come in a shape of ancient gold bullions so it’s customary to eat a few on the New Year day and your money is believed to be plentiful that year.
Then, as soon as the clock strikes 12 o’clock, cracker and fireworks start to blast and pierce through the sky… The air is soon heavily fouled and the ear-splitting noise drowns out the entire world. The adults chorus in unison, saying New Year wishes to each other and the kids with the red envelopes of lucky money in their hands dash to the windows and poke their heads out in excitement. The dark sky is alight and turning pink like a girl's rouge.
On the morning of New Year, people wake up early with sporadic sound of cracker. The ground outside has been covered with a thick shroud of firework shreds. Leaping out of beds and put on new clothes from head to toe, everyone aches for activities for the next few days – visiting relatives and friends, praying and worshipping in local temples, viewing parades of dragon and lion dances, dining in restaurants, etc.
On frosty pavements are usually packed with festive celebrators and vehicles on the streets move forward at a crawl and their drivers have to hoot horns at the people in front of their cars, but with tolerable grins on faces. The joyful festive atmosphere continues till Lantern Festival, the fifteenth and last day of the New Year celebration, when the cities are festooned with beautiful lanterns. The adults enjoy grappling with traditional riddles and the young children toddling along with animal lanterns held in their hands…