I had a wonderful experience today. I went with a friend, an ancient Chinese priest, a canon of St. Peter’s Basilica, who has been in Rome for many years, since before the whole sad business with Mao, to a New Year’s party held by the Taiwanese Embassy to the Holy See. We had many special dishes for the occasion, which by the way they look or the way their names are pronounced (having double meanings) are meant to bring good fortune for the incoming year. We were at the table with the ambassador along with several Chinese priests. It was a delightful lunch and occasion. Yours truly also won one of the prizes from the drawing, though I did not get the round trip ticket from Rome to Taipei, alas.
The observance of the New Year (Xin Nian) typically several days, but the New Year season lasts from the middle of the previous years’ final month to the middle of the first month in the new year. In the system of reckoning time, years are named in cycles of sixty years. The name of the year repeats every sixty years, therefore. 2006 is the 7th year in the cycle and is called bingxu, I am told. It is the year 4703.
To prepare for the New Year, people give their houses thorough cleaning so as to symbolically sweeping misfortune or bad luck and make room for incoming good fortune that they want to arrive. Doors and windows are often painted and decorated with paper cutouts depicting happiness, wealth and longevity. Characters on red paper are placed upside down on doors, because the Chinese word for "upside down" – "dao" – is like the word for "arrive", so, if the character for "spring" is put up upside down, that means that ‘spring is arriving". The same for "good fortune" etc.
New Yearis a time for family gatherings. Among the foods that are eaten are jiaozi – a boiled dumpling, literally meanings "sleep together and have sons", the meaning of which is apparent. Fish is also eaten because the Chinese word for "fish" sounds the same as that for "abundance". One also eats a seaweed called fat choi, a word sounding "prosperity". Noodles symbolize a long life.
On New Year’s Eve you are to leave all the lights on in your house tonight, by the way. I hear that is very good luck – particularly for the electric company. In the morning children get hong bao which are red envelopes with some money. Then people visit their neighbors to greet each other. They will sometimes give mandarin oranges as a token of good will and good fortune. At the banquet today we had great heaps of "mandarini" (so-called in Italian, of course) and the ambassador made sure to give some to the children who came when they were going out.
There are may more customs, of course, but you get the idea. It was a fine day.
So, I greet all of you with a hearty Ã¦ÂÂÃ¥–Å“Ã¥Â‘Ã¨Â´Â¢ – Gongxi facai!