Samui Wining & Dining
THE YEAR OF THE DOG
The story of Chinese New Year and what goes on behind the scenes.

The story of Chinese New Year and what goes on behind the scenes.All Westerners know exactly what their New Year is all about – a good night out, lots of drinks and fun, and with everyone going crazy when the clock strikes midnight! Yes, sure, there’s the idea of New Year’s resolutions, too. But apart from that, the whole thing is just a good reason for a party.

          

But it’s not the same with the Chinese. Their thinking about this occasion is complex, saturated with ritual and actually goes on for a total of 15 days. Because it’s based on the lunar calendar, every new year begins on a different day, at that point in the month when the moon is at its darkest. It then runs until the moon is full, 15 days later. And this year’s celebration is set to kick-off on the 16th of February.

          

However, to most of us in the West, we’re only usually aware of one particular day, and that’s the one when the Chinese community have their colourful procession around the streets. This is the first day of the Chinese traditional calendar for the year – although in actual fact, where there are large Chinese communities such as, say, San Francisco, the street parties spread into a second day. But what most of us don’t realise is that, for up to a month before this day, there’s lots been going on already behind the scenes.

          

We all know about spring cleaning. Keep this in your mind, as it’s partly what the preparations for the Chinese New Year are about. But unlike us, there’s far more significance and true ritual at the heart of it all. The Chinese are deep believers in the power of their ancestors, and of both good and bad spirits; this runs through their entire celebration, as you’re about to find out!

          

The month before the first day of the new year is when people start buying presents, and paper and material for decorations, and also food and clothing. A huge clean-up gets underway, and houses are scrubbed from top to bottom to sweep away every possible hint of bad luck or disappointment from the old year. Doors and window frames are often given a new coat of paint, and then decorated with scripts of proverbs about happiness, wealth and long life.

          

Whereas all this is happening behind closed doors, there’s one aspect that you’ll most certainly spot – festoons of big, colourful red and gold lanterns, banners and bunting will appear, strung between the buildings, high above the streets. The focus will be on the main streets where the later procession is to pass, although it’s a point of pride for the Chinese community that all the families in the little side streets join in too. And then, there’s nothing to look at until the morning of the 16th February. And that’s when the ‘Nian’ The story of Chinese New Year and what goes on behind the scenes.is enthusiastically kept away once more!

The legend is that a mythical beast, the Nian, would appear on the first day of the new year, and devour whatever it could find; cattle, crops, even little children. People tried to distract it by putting out food and gifts, but to no avail. But one year, the Nian saw a child dressed in red and was frightened away. Thus the following year, the villagers were draped in red and had red lanterns everywhere, and prepared themselves with loud fireworks and firecrackers. The Nian took one look and fled, never to be seen again.

          

And this is what the street procession is all about – frightening away the bad sprits, whilst summoning and welcoming the good ones. The noise and shouting, the drumming and the gongs and the huge, bobbing manpowered dragons and lions – everything in red and gold – winds its way from door to door, stopping at each to exchange tokens and bless the household. As each household is visited, one or more of their members join the procession and add to the numbers.

          

But after all the shouting has died away, the observances still continue. Daily prayers are said. Visits to neighbours and friends are in order, along with the customary exchange of goodwill and gifts. Sacrifices are made to the ancestors, uniting the living with those who have passed away. Finally, 15 days after Nian, and on the occasion of the approaching full moon, the end of the New Year is marked by the gentle Festival of Lanterns.

          

There are several main places to go to on Samui, to enjoy this spectacle: the hardest part is finding somewhere to park! Nathon is the best, with the procession dominating the older middle road. Maenam is harder: their Chinese temple is right in the middle of the U-shape that forms walking street, with parking only up on the main ring-road. But probably the most spectacular will be in Hua Thanon, at the impressive Guan Yu Shrine, although finding a place to park near here will be formidable. ‘Guo Nian Hao’ everyone!

          

 Rob De Wet


 


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