The meaning of the Chinese New Year

Jan. 28 marked the start of Lunar New Year, also called Spring Festival and Chinese New Year, which lasts until Feb. 11. A Lantern Festival takes place on the last day. It’s the most important holiday of the year for Chinese people, and the Chinese Transportation Department estimates that more than 2.9 billion people will journey to their counties of origin in 2017.

Collectively the trips home comprise the largest annual human migration in the world. I asked Peggy Huo, my friend from China, what could inspire such a movement year after year. Peggy explains the traditions of trekking home, in-depth cleaning of homes to make everything fresh and new, traditional food, haircuts to symbolize new direction for the year ahead, gifts to children and fireworks to scare off fabled monsters that endangered children in days of yore. Fireworks, for whole nights and days, but especially on the eve of the new year.

We talked for hours about celebration and traditions, finally turning to themes more challenging to translate from Chinese to English. I asked Peggy what would be missed if there were no Lunar New Year. I asked what essential human needs are met by the celebrations. I wanted to know why the holiday matters, deep down. Peggy reminded me that China is a country that prioritizes human relationships, especially with family.

Since many people have moved away from families in recent years to major cities for work, it is very difficult to connect with families who are in provinces far away in distance and time. For some people, the Lunar New Year will be a once-a-year opportunity to see family and relatives. The travel to connect and experience community with family is so important that businesses close and remain closed for many days. From what Peggy says, I understand that family and community matter deeply.

For Chinese people, Peggy explains, Lunar New Year is also a time of rest and renewal. People work very hard during the year; the break provides much needed opportunity to reflect and recover. In reflection, struggles of the past year seem worthwhile in light of time with family and awareness that the money earned and shared has helped. There is also recognition that whatever happened in the past year is over. With the Lunar New Year comes forgiveness of self and others and encouragement to start anew.

A new year may be faced with hope and the excitement of new beginnings. I see that hope, forgiveness, rest and renewal matter, deep down.

Sitting together, we recalled the past year’s discussions of what matters. We are thankful for our friendship. I wish her much happiness and good luck in the new year as she voyages back to China. We wish eachother all the good things that matter deeply to us.

Debra Greenleaf, a participant in Interfaith Initiative Centre County (InterfaithInitiativeCC @hotmail.com) came to know Peggy Huo through her volunteer work. Peggy is an associate professor of business at Guilin University of Technology in China. She lived in State College for the past year with her husband, a visiting scholar at Penn State, and son, and was an active participant in IICC and several other community organizations.