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Celebration of New Year in the Hakka Way

Photo: Celebration of the Lantern Festivel:  four children sitting in the sedan chair are costumed as fairy children in Chinese fairy tales. Sheqian Village, Fushi Town, Yongding County, Fujian Province, China

Language(s):Mandarin Chinese (中文)

John Jiang 

China is a country with more than 5,000 years of history and cultural diversity. It is home to 56 ethnic groups, the largest of which is called Han, accounting for more than 98 percent of the overall population. In the past, due to mountainous terrain and lack of modern transportation infrastructure and vehicles, the communication between even the neighboring villages—not to mention counties or cities—was difficult. As a result, Han Chinese in different areas speak hundreds of dialects. One of these dialects is called Hakka.

To avoid warfare and uprisings in north China, Hakka ancestors migrated to settle down in south China around 1,000 years ago. Despite their mingling with indigenous residents in south China, Hakka people preserve the language and customs of their aristocratic ancestors from the capital of the Chinese empire. Today, Hakka is the third-largest population among overseas Chinese. Famous Hakka figures include former prime minister and founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.

I speak Hakka dialect, too. Today I would like to introduce how Hakka people celebrate new year.       

The day before the lunar new year—December 30 on the lunar calendar—every family pastes Chinese couplets on walls. The couplets contain auspicious Chinese characters and poems, which are meant to bring about good fortune, health and happiness in the coming year. Some families pay tribute to God with a table of food, fruits, pastries and spirits, holding a bundle of incense and praying and bowing toward the table. On the eve of the lunar new year, three or four generations of family members unite to have dinner. The elders give best wishes to all family members during the dinner. After the dinner, the elders and children are given a lucky envelope that contains certain amount of cash by the family members who have the ability to earn money. Between midnight to dawn, families light firecrackers to celebrate the coming of a new year.

From Jan. 1 to 3 on the lunar calendar, people visit their relatives’ and neighbors' homes and extend best wishes to everyone they encounter. The most frequently said sentence is, “Wish you happy and prosperous!” Between Jan. 4 and 20, every family visits the tombs of their ancestors to pay tribute to them. It is a solemn moment and follows a standard procedure and ritual.

Photo: Celebration of the Lantern Festivel:  a pair of paper-covered bamboo lamps carried by a villager in the march around the village. Queping Village, Fushi Town, Yongding County, Fujian Province, China 

The Lantern Festival falls on the evening of Jan. 15. Hakka people take the Lantern Festival very seriously. Starting at 8 p.m., people line up to start a long march around the village. Some villagers wear ancient costumes and act like historical or mythical figures. Some villagers carry candlelit bamboo lanterns. Every community dispatches a paper-covered and candlelit bamboo dragon that consists of nine to 15 body parts, with one young man holding each body part of the dragon. Every dragon dances and swings, as if it is alive. After each dragon there comes a band. The band uses Chinese-style musical instruments, such as drums, to play melodies. With fireworks, music and candlelight, people happily march to their common ancestor’s tomb to pay tribute, and then go by each house. Each house will light firecrackers at the door to celebrate the march. The celebration usually ends at midnight.


John Jiang for Vox Orbis, December 2015

New Year’s Eve in Venezuela

Photo: Fireworks light up the sky over Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Inti/Flickr

Language(s): Spanish (Español)

Maria Gabriela Hernandez Cunto

There is something mystical about the new year celebration. It somehow gives us a clean start, a chance to reflect on those behaviors that are keeping us from happiness and change them—or at least give it a try.

In Venezuela, we take this celebration very seriously, maybe because of the idea that any future time would be better than our present time. Preparation starts by buying new clothes, which according to tradition brings good luck. On the night of New Year’s Eve, everything is ready for when the clock strikes midnight, so everyone has a glass of champagne with 12 grapes that must be eaten one by one while making wishes, yellow underwear put backwards for them to be fixed when the new year begins, and pieces of luggage by the door. All of these traditions are meant to bring prosperity, love, and, in general, a good and happy year.

Photo: At the stroke of midnight, 12 grapes are eaten and drank with champagne while making wishes for the new year. Maria Gabriela Hernandez Cunto

My favorite tradition is carrying the luggage up and down the streets. We do that in order to symbolize the trips we would take during the year. I like this one because it has always worked very well.

All these traditional activities might take a lot of time to complete, but they are accompanied by the hundreds of fireworks flying from almost every house and building in the city. That night, we are not concerned about fire hazards. The view is impressive with all the bright colors up in the sky. It is the true vision of hope, the longing for an amazing year to come.

Maria Gabriela Hernandez Cunto for Vox Orbis, 2015