Xin Nian

Nicholas Quirke was still feeling bloated from the previous days lunch and the late evening Jaozi on 12 February 2021, or January 1st in the Lunar calendar. Yuan Dan, Chou Yi, day one, of the 15 day long celebration of New Year, bought with it some customs that he would be paying attention to and where possible adhere to. The day which is also known as Xinian (New Year) or Chun jie (Spring Festival) symbolises as well a new start in one’s life, refreshing hopes for prosperity, wealth and happiness.. The chief activity on this day is that one pays respect, worship, salute the year with family the oldest and most senior members. The visits serve to strengthen family ties. Bài nián refers to both, pay a New Year’s call as well as ‘wishing somebody a Happy New Year’. Conveniently as they had stayed the night at Peng’s parents the tradition was honoured. He was pleased to obsewrve that traditionally this was a day when everyone was supposed to eat vegetarian and a dish called “Jai” or Buddha’s delight is prepared on the first day of Chinese New Year using eighteen different ingredients as the Chinese believe eighteen to be a lucky number signifying wealth and prosperity. Abstaining from meat consumption on the first day is believed to enhance longevity. Additionally, a vegetarian dish helps to purify the body as well as it honors a Buddhist tradition that nothing living should be killed on the first day of the New Year. According to a Chinese legend, Nüwa is the goddess who created the world. She created certain animals on different days, hence each day is considered the birthday of the corresponding animal. Human beings were created from yellow clay on the seventh day after the creation of the world. Along with the ‘Su’ diet they were expected to eat Glutinous rice balls and nian Gao, both treats to be saved for the evening. Brunch was extremely filling and uncomfortably hot. The heating in all apartment buildings are controlled by the block officials as the water all flows into each other’s flats, It is turned on in November and not turned off till March. The temperature is set and in Peng’s parents block it is a high 30 degrees. All the food and the heat made him feel a little unwell and he looked forward to getting out into the open, moderately polluted air. They said their goodbyes and headed back to Caishikou to drop off their bags before heading to Chaoyangmen and the Bona Imex Cinema at U-Town Mall for ‘The Yingyang Master’, a fantasy film based on series of novels. It was fantastical and entertaining and it felt good to lose himself in the wonderful monstrous tale. They had tea at one of his haunts, Teasure, before heading back to the apartment to cook and eat the peanut butter rice balls and the steamed Nian Gao ( year cake, glutinous rice cake) The cake is eaten and in the form of a fish as the sounds of Nian Gao You echoes the sound of ‘year higher’ and ‘Fish’ meaning rising abundance/prosperous and higher achievement for the coming year. Having gone to the effort of filming the preparation of the cake he was a little disappointed that he had failed to turn the camera on to record the eating of the sticky delicious food. It was not ideal to be eating late again, but as they had not had lunch or dinner he threw caution to the wind. Once again, the hour did not affect his ability to shut his eyes on the day and sleep fitfully.

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