Chun Jie Kuai Le!
Welcome Year of the Rabbit! February 2nd marked the highly anticipated lunar New Year’s Eve here in China. I awoke to the boom of fireworks (which I still hear outside my window, days later, as I type these words). I jumped out of bed feeling excited. Dan and I had been invited to share a traditional celebration that evening with the family of his wonderful colleague, Shao Jun.
We headed out late morning in search of gifts for Shao Jun’s family. The quiet streets surrounding our apartment gave the sense of being in a small town instead of in China’s capital. Masses of Beijingers had already left the city to celebrate the holiday with family in their hometowns. For Shao Jun’s extended family, we pieced together a gift bag of fruit and green tea. For her three-year-old son, we purchased a couple of toy cars. Shopping complete, we boarded the subway. Riding the Beijing metro often feels like being squeezed in a sardine can. You can imagine my surprise when the train was so low-key that we easily found seats.
About 5pm we arrived at the apartment of Shao Jun’s in-laws. Our hosts were tremendously kind and made us feel right at home. Snacking on nuts and candy, we gathered around the television, which beamed the live New Year’s Eve program. This is one of China’s most widely watched shows of the year. It was grand in every way, featuring musical performances, opera singers, magic shows, and sit-coms. There was also plenty of dancing, including migrant workers doing hip-hop and women shaking to the tune of “If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it.” The sets and costumes were glitzy and mesmerizing.
Soon it was time for dinner. Luckily, I'd been warned about the importance of showing up hungry on New Year’s Eve. Before the meal was served, I peered into the kitchen to see Shao Jun’s husband whipping up one beautiful dish after another.
Dinner was incredible. 20 dishes total! We feasted on delicious meats, vegetables, tofu, salads, and seafood. A whole fish lay in the center of the table. It was not to be finished because leftovers symbolize prosperity in the coming year. The men tipped back shots of baijiu to a chorus of “Gan Bei!” and sentiments of international friendship and good will. Outside, I wondered if a hailstorm was brewing. Fireworks were gaining intensity and a steady stream of bangs, crackles, and car alarms provided the soundtrack to our meal.
After dinner we ventured out to set off our own fireworks. (I was too scared to go beyond holding a sparkler.) Dan and I were shocked to see people lighting fireworks off of apartment balconies, under power lines, and near buildings and cars.
As the clock neared midnight, Beijing erupted. Fireworks blasted from every angle. The smell of sulfur permeated the air. At one point flying debris pelted me in the thigh, hard, leaving a colorful bruise. After taking the hit, I ducked near a car seeking a small measure of safety. My writing skills are inadequate to portray the true scale of explosions. Take a peek at the video Dan and I made of the scene around us.
Click here for a quick video download: Fireworks Video
When we staggered back inside, I was so dazed that momentarily I questioned whether I was awake or dreaming. We sat down to steaming dumplings—yes, more food!—to symbolize good luck and to welcome spring. They were tasty, healthy, and a perfect way to cap the evening. Dan and I are forever grateful to our gracious hosts, and new friends, for making our first Chinese New Year a memory to treasure.
May we all live well and prosper in the year of the rabbit. Chun Jie Kuai Le!