Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chinese New Year's Eve

While many of you are enjoying watching the opening ceremonies and/or first day of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, we are celebrating Chinese New Year. As we headed to the post office today, hoping to pick up a Valentine's care package; we noticed that shop after small shop (which line the streets of our city) had their metal doors pulled down and locked - closed. As fate would have it, the post office was closed as well; but we should have anticipated this. Everyone was spending the day with their family and getting ready for the exciting night ahead.

I've never quite understood it before when Chinese friends told me that New Year's (or Spring Festival) was a lot like my Christmas. But today, when I heard the teenagers come out from our neighbors' apartment, laughing and talking while they decorated their door with the traditional red papers and Fú 福, I began to get a sense of it. Then our upstairs neighbor came down for his weekly English tutoring accompanied by his father, and they gave us a huge gift tin of Dove chocolates decoratively wrapped up together with a plush tiger. This eleven year old boy was beside himself today and got more and more giddy as his lesson went on. He informed me that he was looking forward to eating bābǎofàn 八宝饭 or eight treasures rice at his grandmother's house and that after dinner he would set off fireworks.

At about 6:00pm firecrackers started going off sporadically, first here and then there, around our complex (sounding much like machine gun rapid fire). The poor neighborhood guards had to go from place to place and make sure any lingering sparks were stamped out. Just after 7:00, as the sky began to darken, the fireworks began. Our teenagers opted to join some friends and go to the public park near the government building, where they could light explosives to their hearts' content (with thousands of others) and see a spectacular fireworks display. My husband and I met some neighbors down in our complex park area, where the men and children set off bottle rockets, a few spinners, and roman candles. It's wonderful how fireworks can turn grown adult guys in to really big kids. We all also enjoyed watching other revelers with their fire play. It seems that as each family finished their meal together, they came out to light their own personal arsenal .... There were sparklers for the little ones, some fireworks like we had, and cones and boxes that shot out cascading fountains of white spray or that burst into colorful flowers in the sky.

The "pops" and "bangs" of fireworks bounced off the apartment buildings like canon & rifle fire, and we heard the not so distant "booms" of other celebrations from every direction. At one point in the park, we were hemmed in by the individual fire displays. The air was filled with a gray haze and the strong smell of sulfur. I figured the only option we had, if something shot our way, would be to drop to the ground and camo crawl through the smoke to safety. I could close my eyes and easily imagine that I was in a war zone; except that everyone's mood was expectant and light-hearted.

Even as I write the fireworks are still going off. As I understand it, the displays will just get larger as the evening goes on with a grand finale at midnight. We've decided that a good measure of the potency and awe factor of a series of fireworks is how many car alarms and sound triggered stairwell lights it sets off.

Well, the boys have called in to say that they've spent all their fireworks and are going to go eat skewer grilled street food. And I'm going to bring this post to a close. All I have left to say is,

"Chinese New Year - this is what Chinese fireworks were made for; or, at the least, they do fireworks well."


*Okay so what we experienced earlier in the evening was infinitesimally minute (toy pop-gun size) in comparison to midnight. Our boys were able to watch the whole city explode with a crescendo of light and color from a friend's 12th floor apartment (the late night barbequ-ers having also taken the night off for New Year's - I guess the only sellers doing business this evening - and a good one at that -were the fireworks stands).*


  1. Oh Steph, thanks for sharing! How sweet that a young boy is excited about rice at his grandmother's. Sounds like a delightful holiday. We all need this type of celebration of the coming of Spring. xo,

  2. Wow...this sounds like a wonderful celebration, though I'm not fond of fire crakers noises..


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