by Ōuyáng Xī 欧阳茜
Today starts the New Year in China, a happy, bustling time for family reunions, festive New Year songs, exploding firecrackers, and homemade dumplings.
In this two-part series, I’d like to share with you the traditions for celebrating Chinese New Year in my hometown in southern China.
Spring Festival Couplets
My grandfather used to write Spring Festival couplets for our entire family. His calligraphy was so good that neighbors begged him to write theirs, too.
Originating in the Song dynasty over a thousand years ago, couplets are red vertical banners decorated with Chinese calligraphy that hang on either side of the front door.
Choosing the right Spring Festival couplet and writing it properly is important; you don’t want to have the same couplet as other families, nor do you want last year’s couplet. So each year, my grandfather would carefully check the traditional poems and add his own creative touch. “Which word is better for the poem?” he would ask us, and it was a joy for our family to negotiate a single word just to come up with a better couplet.
When we were little, my cousin and I practiced calligraphy, but my grandfather considered only our best work for display somewhere in the house. The front door was reserved for my grandfather’s couplet to greet visitors, wishing a Happy New Year.
My father recently sent me a picture of people in our small town selling handwritten Spring Festival couplets for Chinese New Year (see above). I am thrilled to know that people are still keeping this tradition alive!
The first thing I did this year was write my own couplet to decorate my apartment. This time, it didn’t take as long as when I’d do them with my grandfather since I was the only one! Most people won’t understand the words on my front door, but even still, I want to carry on this beautiful tradition.