This weekend was full of holidays.
We started the festivities by celebrating Candlemas, or "Crepe Day" as we called it in France, on February 2nd. That morning, we made our own crepes, albeit not nearly as good as French ones, and stuffed them with bananas, chocolate, and powdered sugar.
Not only is February 2nd Candlemas, it's also Groundhog's Day. As the entire US was covered in snow east of the Rockies this past weekend (sucks to be you guys!), no shadows were to be had for Mr. Groundhog, which means "Have no Fear, Spring is Near!" As cousin Catherine put it: the sky must be running out of snow.
Now for the biggie:
Chinese New Year was February 3, 2011 this year!!! The celebrations began on Wednesday night, February 2nd, but fireworks began long before. Starting about a week in advance, no day was complete with 1+ hours of fireworks somewhere nearby. This year is the Year of the Rabbit, so everyone is rabbit crazy right now. Even the salespeople in Tesco were wearing bunny suits all week. I desperately looked for a pair of bunny ears to add to my funny hat collection, but none could be found. A popular gesture used this year looked something like this:
So New Year's Eve day, we ate our Candlemas crepes, then chilled out for our luxurious 4-day weekend. Around 5pm, we headed next door to Helen and John's to begin the festivities. Helen presented us with a gift of red socks, which we immediately put on (for good luck!). John had cooked an amazing seven course meat dinner for us, the highlights being giant grilled shrimp and BBQ ribs. After that, we watched some of the crazy TV specials for the New Year before beginning preparations for dumplings. There were nice parades in other cities, like Xi'an, and various operas, magic shows, and comedy shows, which we couldn't really understand.
Despite the language barrier, Andrew, John and I managed to turn several card games into a Chinese baijiu (pronounced "buy Joe") drinking game. That stuff is really potent, even at 36% (weaker than the 43-50% normally found), but that didn't stop the two men from finishing off the bottle within two hours. Gan Bei! (Bottoms Up!)
After the games, we started on the dumpling preparation, which took over two hours to complete (we made A LOT of dumplings). We went outside to set off our own fireworks around 11:30pm. The whole city was hazy from the constant barrage of fireworks throughout the day. Sometimes, it sounded like a war zone, with green and orange flashes lighting up the sky all around. Other times, it sounded like a thunderstorm, cannons, or even the sea. By the way, fireworks are much like that girl you picked up at the bar last night: they aren't improved by daylight. Anyway, Andrew had excitedly bought some nicer fireworks, which did have pretty colors instead of just noise, and we had a lot of fun setting them off on the street.
I should probably say that while the Chinese are credited with having invented fireworks, most of them are pretty un-impressive. It seems that noise, not light, is the key factor, which explains why the entire city had been setting them off without interruption all day starting at 8:30am. The story goes that the noise scares away a monster called Nian (pronounced "knee N"), who brings bad luck to people. According to this legend, the ugly and ferocious monster Nian would hunt humans on the 1st and 15th of every month. The locals approached a wise old man, who organized them and together, they ambushed Nian with drums, gongs, and fireworks. Nian ran away, frightened. The villagers chased him until he was exhausted, at which point they slew him. Today, Chinese celebrate Spring Festival to remember that ample applications of cooperation and gunpowder will fix all of society's problems.
After Andrew had satisfied his pyrotechnic, incendiary urges, we returned to the apartment to countdown and eat dumplings. I don't know how we had room for any more food, but somehow we managed. The dumplings were delicious, and the perfect finish to the festival.
In other news, in the spirit of Spring Festival (another name for Chinese New Year), Andrew went lantern-crazy and decorated our apartment like a hutong courtyard. I think it's a bit much, but the effect is quite pretty.
So we wish you
Xinnian Kuai Le (Happy New Year), (she knee N kwhy luh)
Gong Xi Fa Cai (Congratulations, Wealth, Prosperity), (gong she fat sigh)
Shi Shi Shun Li (May everything be easy for you), (shuh shuh shoon lee)
Ji Xiang Ru Yi (May your happiness come true). (G she yang roo yee)