The Year of the Goat: Being in China at Chinese New Year

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It’s February 18, 2015–the eve of Chinese New Year! This is a HUGE holiday here! Not only is our school closed for two weeks, but many of the shops and stores here close for several days so the employees can spend time with their families. Suzhou right now kind of resembles a ghost town. There are some people out and about, but foot traffic is nothing like it normally is.

You may have heard 2015 called The Year of the Goat. Or the Sheep. Or the Ram. So which one is correct? Well, apparently all three are accurate. It seems the Chinese do not differentiate among these animals. Here in China, I’ve heard Goat the most, but I definitely hear it’s the Year of the Sheep as well. I haven’t heard “Ram” at all, but when I look at CNY advertisements here, it looks most like a ram to me.

I found this short video from the BBC that explains The Year of the Goat/Sheep/Ram in a way that even young children will enjoy. It’s great for teachers to show in classrooms!

So what are we planning to do to celebrate CNY? Well, we plan to go to Shanghai this Sunday for a few days. I’ve heard train travel is extremely crowded, so that should be fun. In the meantime, since we’re staying in Suzhou for the first week of the New Year holiday, we had to stock up on groceries and water delivery to get us through the next few days.

We’ve been seeing signs like this on store doors:

No, I don’t read Chinese just yet, but it looks like this store is open until 6pm today and closed all day tomorrow. We’ll find out when I go out a bit later today!

What do Chinese people do during New Year? One thing people do is exchange Hongbao. Hongbao are fancy red and gold envelopes given to friends and family for good luck in the New Year. They put money inside, and from what I understand, the money needs to be as crisp and new as possible. Hong (red) is a lucky color in China. Hongbao is also given to ayis (house help) who work for many expat families. We don’t have an ayi at our house, but I’ve been told that a typical hongbao from an employer to an employee is one-month’s salary.

The Chinese people also have many traditional dances at CNY. Dragons are considered lucky in the Chinese culture, and dragon dances are popular (I imagine we’ll see some of these in Shanghai). This one is a swan dance and was performed at our school’s recent CNY staff dinner.

Paper lanterns are also popular. I’ve seen lots of these both at school and around town. We had a Chinese New Year celebration at school. There were several stations for students to create arts and crafts related to the New Year. These paper lanterns hanging in our school cafeteria are all student-created.
More paper lanterns (red, for good luck!) hanging across a canal in Suzhou Times Square:

Last, we get to the fireworks! We have heard fireworks from our apartment every night this week. Actually, we hear fireworks quite often around here, whether it’s for CNY or not. The first time we heard them, they were right outside our apartment at 8:00 on a Saturday morning a few days after we arrived here! We actually thought it was gunfire at first. Turns out, some poor guy somehow lit up a whole box (I think accidentally), right on the sidewalk. So then, this lady on one of the floors above us started screaming at the guy and throwing glass bottles and trash at him. It was hilarious, actually. Welcome to China!

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