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Lesson Transcript

Nicole: Hi everyone, I’m Nicole.
Matt: And Matt here, welcome again to CantoneseClass101.com, Important Holidays. Now, there is a big bonus to making Chinese your adopted culture, and that is, you get double the holidays!
Nicole: That’s right! There are a lot of very colorful and exciting festivals that Chinese people celebrate.
Matt: Yes, and now you can adopt them as your own too!
Nicole: So today we are going to learn about 5 holidays that are near and dear to the hearts of Chinese people.
Matt: I think the first one we should talk about is very obvious.
Nicole: Yes, the most important holiday for Chinese people is the Spring Festival, also known as Chinese New Year.
Matt: If a festival’s importance could be measured by the decibels of noise it produces amongst the population, then CNY (ie. Chinese New Year) would be a shoe-in for the winner in that contest.
Nicole: Yes we always welcome in Chinese New Year with food, family gatherings, and lots and lots of fireworks.
Matt: Yes, unceasing fireworks for days on end, in fact. Now, CNY is not celebrated on Jan 1st, is it.
Nicole: No, it is based on the Chinese calendar, or lunar calendar, so it falls on different dates each year, but usually a date between January 21 and February 20.
Matt: And now, how do we say Chinese New Year in Chinese?
Nicole: 春節 (ceon1 zit3).
Matt: One more time?
Nicole: 春節 (ceon1 zit3). And basically Chinese New Year is observed as a public holiday in a number of countries where a sizable Chinese population lives.
Matt: Generally people will get a 3 to 5 day holiday from work to celebrate. That’s not bad!
Nicole: Yes, that’s pretty good. We need the days off, because Chinese people will travel back to their hometowns and villages to spend the holiday with their families. It’s very important.
Matt: Yes at that time of year in China, the trains and buses are packed with people working in the cities returning home.
Nicole: Yes, sometimes we will have to take train rides of more than 36 hours, without a seat!
Matt: Where would that person be going? To Mars?
Nicole: Very close. It could be a train from Harbin to Guangdong, or Shanghai to Tibet.
Matt: That is from up North all the way down to South, or the very East tip to the inland West.
Nicole: Exactly. It takes 24 hours to go from Beijing to Guangzhou by train, and another 4 hours by bus to the town where I live.
Matt: Wow, I don’t know if I could take a 24, or worse, 36 hour train ride to anywhere.
Nicole: Well, to be honest, the origins of CNY go too far back to be certain where the traditions came from.
Matt: See, that’s the problem when you have 5,000 years of history!
Nicole: Yes. So we are left with numerous legends that offer explanations; most of them are about a mythical beast that would terrorize villagers and eat the crops and livestock. Red lanterns, red scrolls and firecrackers were all said to aid in scaring him away.
Matt: Alright! Well that explains a lot right there.
Nicole: But whatever the origins, one thing for sure is that Chinese New Year in the past, as well as today, center around family.
Matt: I know one of the traditions is to wear new clothes.
Nicole: That's right, new clothes for a new year.
Matt: And there is a lot of red around.
Nicole: The color red is in all the decorations. It is definitely Chinese people’s favorite color. It stands for happiness and good fortune.
Matt: I remember one day right before CNY everyone on the street was cleaning their houses in a frenzy, and I learned that in China that is because the Kitchen God is supposed to depart and report to heaven about whether the family was naughty or nice.
Nicole: That’s true, and the cleaning comes in because the family members are supposed to clean up the house while he’s gone and make a fresh start to welcome the God as well as the new promising year.
Matt: OK so once everybody is home and back with their families, what exactly do you do to celebrate the holiday?
Nicole: The New Year's Eve dinner is very sumptuous and traditionally includes chicken and fish. Each day of the festival has traditional foods, but these will vary from region to region and family to family.
Matt: And don’t these dishes also have special names?
Nicole: Of course, many of the dishes eaten on these days have names that are homophones for words with positive or lucky connotations.
Matt: And in some areas, ancestors are often honored and offering of food and incense are made to the gods.
Nicole: That’s right. Especially in the Cantonese speaking areas, Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macau etc. We keep more of those traditions than Northern Chinese, with Feng Shui and all that. Although some say we are more superstitious.
Matt: And are you not?
Nicole: I think for young people it's simply fun to do all the superstitions that the parents require, like in your animal year, you should be wearing red underpants and a necklace with the animal of your year, to prevent yourself from bad luck.
Matt: So what animal year are you?
Nicole: Tiger.
Matt: And this is the year of tiger! So are you wearing red underwear now?
Nicole: Not yet! Because spring festival is not here coming.
Matt: Well now we know what to get you for a gift. Well, participating in such superstition is also a good way of keeping the traditions going.
Nicole: That’s right. You will see me wearing a necklace of tiger soon. My mom has got me one of those.
Matt: Well this is all good and well. But really, the biggest impression I have of Chinese new years is the noise!
Nicole: Ah yes, at the stroke of midnight, the celebrating really begins. The sky is filled with fireworks and the streets are filled with people wishing each other a happy new year.
Matt: Now that is the Chinese new years I know.
Nicole: So, it of course doesn’t end there. The next morning, people often exchange gifts. Red envelopes containing money will be given to the young ones by the older members of the family. But you're not supposed to open the envelopes until you get home.
Matt: Why is that? Because of bad luck?
Nicole: Nope. It’s just the tradition to put the money in the envelop. But if they want to give you a lot of money to show how rich they are, they will just hand you the big note without the envelopes.
Matt: What is the fattest red envelop you've ever gotten, Nicole?
Nicole: 1,000 RMB. But it was a long ago, long before the recession came.
Matt: Oh the good old days.
Nicole: I miss that so much.
Matt: Now for the rest of the holiday what do you guys do?
Nicole: Basically we just relax, visit friends and wish them luck in the new year.
Matt: That’s right, there’s not much else to do because most of the businesses are shut down for the holiday.
Nicole: Yes, though now in bigger cities a lot of department stores and stuff will stay open to take advantage of the business opportunity.
Matt: Alright so is there a Chinese equivalent to ‘Happy New Year!’?
Nicole: Yes! There are a couple greetings. One really famous one is: 恭喜發財 (gung1 hei2 faat3 coi4).
Matt: Which means “get rich!”, right?
Nicole: Yes, 恭喜發財 (gung1 hei2 faat3 coi4), a wish for prosperity in the new year. Another common one is simply 新年快樂 (san1 nin4 faai3 lok6), which means “Happy New Year”.
Matt: Can you say them one more time for us, Nicole?
Nicole: 恭喜發財 (gung1 hei2 faat3 coi4)! 新年快樂 (san1 nin4 faai3 lok6)!
Matt: Okay that sounds very holiday-ish. What should I say in response?
Nicole: Simply repeat 恭喜發財 (gung1 hei2 faat3 coi4) or 新年快樂 (san1 nin4 faai3 lok6)!
Matt: So just mimic what was said to you. Good, I like that. So that is the most famous Chinese holiday, but there are many more. You guys are party animals.
Nicole: Yes, probably the 2nd most important day in China is the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival.
Matt: That’s right and in Cantonese it’s:
Nicole: 中秋節 (zung1 cau1 zit3).
Matt: Can we hear that again?
Nicole: 中秋節 (zung1 cau1 zit3).
Matt: Literally translated as “middle-autumn-festival”.
Nicole: Yes. 中秋節 (zung1 cau1 zit3).
Matt: This festival is a popular harvest festival celebrated by Chinese people.
Nicole: Yes, It dates back over 3,000 years, and originates from Moon worship in the Shang Dynasty.
Matt: So when can we expect the fireworks to start for this holiday?
Nicole: haha, we generally do look for excuses to light off fireworks. Well the Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, or lunar calendar, which is usually around mid or late September. It is a date that coincides with the Equinoxes of the solar calendar, when the moon at its fullest and roundest.
Matt: A holiday about the moon… how did that start?
Nicole: Again, it’s pretty ancient, but the roots of the holiday lie in the story of “the woman on the moon”.
Matt: Another legend? I always thought it was a man on the moon
Nicole: It’s a pretty girl. There are a few versions but basically it’s the story of the fateful night when 嫦娥 (soeng4 ngo4) was lifted up to the moon.
Matt: Chinese poets love writing about that story.
Nicole: Yes. Farmers celebrate the end of the summer harvesting season on this date.
Matt: And what do everyday people do to celebrate?
Nicole: Nowadays this holiday is celebrated with visits to friends and families, and gift-giving of the traditional food of the holiday, mooncakes.
Matt: Mm.. one of my favorites. Now we get to the part about the massive mooncake gift exchange.
Nicole: Yes, it is the traditional food of the mid-autumn festival.
Matt: Basically they are a pastry with a sweet filling… we've already discussed in details on our Cantonese Cuisine episode. But everyone gives mooncakes back and forth at this time of year. You are guaranteed to get really sick of them.
Nicole: Yes, and the price is really high. Some can even cost in the range of US$10 to $50 a mooncake.
Matt: OK here is another Chinese holiday, and this one also centers more around family, but a little less around food.
Nicole: Yes, it’ s a very important holiday, where we pay respect to our ancestors. It’s called 清明節 (cing1 ming4 zit3).
Matt: Let’s hear that one more time?
Nicole: 清明節 (cing1 ming4 zit3) or 清明 (cing1 ming4), omitting the last character for festival.
Matt: In English it is known as ‘Tomb Sweeping Day’.
Nicole: Right, 清明節 (cing1 ming4 zit3). It usually falls around April 5.
Matt: For the Chinese, it is a day to remember and honor one's ancestors at their grave sites, right?
Nicole: Right. We call it 拜山 (baai3 saan1). Literally, “worship the mountains”.
Matt: Why is it called that?
Nicole: Because ancestors are buried in mountains. People will visit the graves of their ancestors and clean the tombs. Some people will leave food, tea, wine, chopsticks, etc. for the departed.
Matt: Sometimes at this time of year you will see people put willow branches at their doorways.
Nicole: That’s right, they think that willow branches help ward off the evil ghosts that wander on 清明 (cing1 ming4).
Matt: Ok now for a totally different kind of holiday… mind you, one that also involves firecrackers… It’s National Day!
Nicole: Yes, October 1, the National Day.
Matt: So the PRC was founded on October 1, 1949 with a ceremony at Tiananmen Square. What is this holiday called in Cantonese?
Nicole: It’s called 國慶節 (gwok3 hing3 zit3).
Matt: The National Day.
Nicole: Right. 國慶節 (gwok3 hing3 zit3).
Matt: It is celebrated throughout mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau with a variety of government-organized festivities, including fireworks and concerts.
Nicole: Right, and the public places, such as Tiananmen Square in Beijing, are decorated up festively. Portraits of revered leaders, such as Sun Yat-Sen, are publicly displayed.
Matt: And all the taxis will have the flag flying on their cars.
Nicole: Isn't that lovely?
Matt: Well, if they offer free ride around the city. There is another popular holiday for Chinese people that I had heard of even before I went to China.
Nicole: What’s that?
Matt: The Dragon Boat Festival, of course!
Nicole: Oh of course! 端午節 (dyun1 ng5 zit3).
Matt: Let’s hear that one more time?
Nicole: 端午節 (dyun1 ng5 zit3). It generally falls sometime in June.
Matt: This festival is believed to have originated in ancient China. There are a number of theories about its origins. There are a number of folk traditions, beliefs and explanatory myths connected to the observance.
Nicole: But basically nowadays it involves eating these leaf wrapped sticky rice dumplings called 粽 (zung2) .
Matt: Yeah I love those. I love gluten-y, or stick rice dumplings. And there is a boat race too, right?
Nicole: Yes in many places… even in western countries with a significant number of Chinese.
Matt: It’s a really ancient holiday that sort of fell by the wayside in China for a while?
Nicole: Yes, the festival has much cultural history in China. However, the People's Republic of China government, established in 1949, for a long time excluded traditional holidays such as 端午節 (dyun1 ng5 zit3) from its list of public holidays.
Matt: But it’s back now! That’s the important thing. It was celebrated in China in 2008 for the first time in a long time.
Nicole: Yeah it’s a really unique and interesting holiday.
Matt: And an excuse to eat gluten-y rice balls!
Nicole: Yes, yum.
Matt: This was just a sampling of all the holidays and festivals China has in store for you. Good for you for starting your Chinese journey with us here at ChineseClass101.com. Where you will get double the holidays for one low price.
Nicole: That’s true!