The sharp rata-tat-tat sounds like a machine gun. Actually it’s fireworks which are a regular sound lately. Red lanterns are appearing everywhere. Store shelves and aisle displays are stocked so high they appear like they’re ready to topple. These are all signs that the Chinese New Year is here.

It’s the Year of the Dragon and the actual celebration is January 23-25. But many got into the spirit of the season well before those dates. Just like Christmas in the United States, the stores start displaying their holiday offerings well ahead of time. Like Easter, the New Year falls on different dates each year.

On the first day of celebrating, people begin to visit with friends. The second day is usually reserved for family gatherings featuring a special meal. In that respect it’s a lot like Thanksgiving. Lucky family members receive a red packet envelope with money. But at the very least, a loved one will receive some gift of candy, food, or flowers. An important gathering place is wherever the family elder stays (a grandmother, respected uncle, whoever). Some homes become quite crowded with company especially when a relative is visiting from faraway.

Red is definitely the dominant color in China on special occasions and this holiday is no exception. Once again it feels somewhat like another American one-Valentine’s Day. The marketplaces are full of certain red items : underwear and bras. The traditional Chinese believe good luck starts with your undergarments. Of course vendors are always ready to capitalize on ANY consumer need. It explains why both sidewalk sellers as well as stores are loaded with New Year decorations. The dominant one is the dragon since this is the Year of the Dragon. That’s an easy order to fill since dragons are mass produced in factories. It’s always a good seller since it’s the icon many tourists associate with China.

Trees filled with tiny tangerines are both popular decoration and gifts. It’s an interesting sight since I’m used to seeing my citrus fruit in boxes or bags. I imagine the person who gets stuck lugging that tree to a relative’s house won’t be a happy camper!!

Flowers are abundant as well. The dominant ones are mums. As America’s favorite fall flower, there’s a touch of autumn to this season. The public square in Tangjia which is usually a recreation or gathering area has been turned into a short term nursery .Just like the guys who sell Christmas trees, these sellers have to unload their stock while the interest is there. This IS a tropical climate but once the New Year passes there generally will be little interest in flowers until the spring months arrive. The flowers also have some symbolism-hope, blessings, and luck. Many households display at least one potted plant. Some really load up on them. I guess they’re hoping to increase the odds of cashing in on that hope, blessings, and luck!!

Sunday was New Year’s Eve. So the markets were quite busy with people rushing around gathering up their last minute gifts. The flower stands were especially busy. That’s pretty much a safe present. The buses are still a popular form of transportation in China. So they were loaded with people and piles of presents. Plenty of fireworks are for sale as well. The quantities available are staggering. They make those fireworks stores across the New York border in Pennsylvania pale by comparison. That probably should not be a surprise since the Chinese invented them and do not have any laws restricting them like we do. Check out the fireworks sold in America. The packages usually say made in China.

While most firework displays in western New York are public ones, here in China families pretty much conduct their own shows. At least a good half hour before midnight on New Year’s Eve, the booming started with a vengeance. You’d swear you were in the war zone. The loud bangs and flashes seem to be all around you on the ground and in the sky. The street and fields behind my apartment complex are a popular spot for setting them off. I turned around in a full circle and fireworks could be sighted in all directions. It was definitely a mega version of our Fourth of July.

So as you can see, the Chinese New Year incorporates elements of many of our major holidays. But make no mistake their celebrations are most definitely Chinese. Happy New Year to all my Chinese friends….and anyone else who wants to celebrate!