BEIJING, Feb. 8, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — An interview of Álvaro Paños Cubillo from Spain and Xu Ruyi, journalist from China.org.cn on the Chinese New Year:
Xu Ruyi: How long have you been in China, Álvaro?
Álvaro: I’ve been here for 15 years. I know a little about the Spring Festival.
Xu Ruyi: Then I want to test you. Besides the spring couplets, what else do the Chinese use to touch up our homes during the Spring Festival?
Álvaro: OK, good question. There are lots of elements to decorate the house. First, the character Fu, which means fortune. Normally people will put them upside down at the entrance of the house, because “upside down” is pronounced as “dao,” which is pronounced the same as “arriving,” “dao.” So it means the Fu, the fortune, is arriving. And you also have the “menshen,” the guardians of the doors. They will protect the house and they are based on the images of ancient dynasty generals. And there are different elements, like the lanterns and the Chinese knot. There are many, many elements like this.
Álvaro: I also know something about the “nianyefan,” the dinner on the eve of the Spring Festival. There will be many dishes. And people have the Chinese dumplings, “jiaozi.” The beauty in that is you gather with your family and you prepare together before the dinner. And then after the midnight, you eat jiaozi together. There is fish. Also, it’s related to the pronunciation of another character which is abundance, superávit (surplus), both are pronounced as “yu.” So when there is yu, fish, on the table, it means there will be superávit (surplus) and abundance in your life for the next year, “nian nian you yu (meaning abundant life every year).” If somebody breaks a glass or a bowl, you can say “sui sui ping an.” The “sui,” the character meaning breaking, has the same pronunciation as “year.” So it means you will have peace and harmony. There’re many traditions related to the pronunciation of the characters and auspicious meanings.
Xu Ruyi: I must say that’s really fantastic, and you are a Spring Festival expert here. But I do wonder when you are following these traditions, what are you actually thinking? Are you just “doing in China as the Chinese do” or what?
Álvaro: Well, that’s a very interesting question. I think there’s a process, an evolution. I first arrived in China during the Spring Festival. And back in that time, I didn’t know anything about Chinese culture. So just little by little, you go exploring, getting familiar with the culture, with the language, and you spend more time with Chinese people. And it’s in that manner that you really start learning and getting immersed in the culture and enjoy it. As long as you know more, you enjoy more the celebration. I think the important thing is just approaching the celebrations from other cultures with an open mind, to learn the deep meaning and just participate in that way to experience in a full manner.
Xu Ruyi: Right. By the way, do you know that the Spring Festival is now a United Nations holiday?
Álvaro: I didn’t know that, but it doesn’t surprise me. Since I’ve realized during the last years that Chinese culture, including these traditions like the Spring Festival, are more and more present in some western countries. I can talk about my country Spain. Now during the Chinese New Year, you can see a lot of elements in Madrid. Like, the local government is investing a lot in creating some posters. This year, they used the dragon, with some landmark buildings of Madrid. And we have a growing Chinese community, and they organized a lot of activities during the Chinese New Year, like parades, special meals, cuisine workshops, and activities for children. This year for sure we’ll have the dance of the dragon. I’m very happy to see how people’s interest in Chinese culture is growing. And I always encourage my friends and my sister to take my nephew and my niece to participate in these activities and just get more and more familiar with Chinese culture.
Xu Ruyi: That’s really nice. These activities can spark their interest to find out more about China and Chinese culture. I think that’s really great.
Álvaro: Definitely. I think this can be like the first gate, an entrance to the Chinese culture, people may start getting familiar with some elements of the Spring Festival, like “shengxiao (Chinese zodiac),” the 12 animals, or some food, and little by little, their interest in learning more about the Chinese culture will grow.
Xu Ruyi: Yeah. And I do think during this process they will begin to realize that there are actually many similarities between Christmas and the Spring Festival. I mean, these two are different festivals, but they have a lot in common.
Álvaro: Yeah. Indeed, I realized that the essence of these two celebrations is pretty much the same. It’s a time to take a break, slow down, spend some days in peace with your family. It’s a time for hope. Here in China, you have a lot of “miaohui,” temple fairs. So, in Western countries, we have Christmas markets. There are many similarities. And we give gifts to each other on Christmas, and in China, the elderly give the kids the “hongbao,” the lucky money. Although the origins are different: Christmas originated from Christianity, and the Chinese New Year is connected with agriculture. But apart from that, there are many things in common. We are really connected in humanity with many similarities in these traditions.
Xu Ruyi: That’s really nice. In essence, they are both festivals that stand for hope, peace and harmony. The cultures are different, but we actually have a lot more in common than we thought.
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