Chinese do not celebrate the arrival of the New Year in just one night. It is a week long celebration. Traditionally, in the last days Chinese would have been cleaning and decluttering their homes to let new energy flow. They would get a hair cut, to get rid of the "old". Especially kids are sent to the hairdresser these days.
Today, is the merit making day. Food, especially oranges and cakes are brought to the temple or house altar together with flowers and incent sticks.
Tonight is New Years Eve and you will hear fire crackers in the streets, they can be really loud and scary. And lots of fireworks, everybody shoots everything! I remember my first Chinese New Year in Beijing, it was in 2007, the first year, that fireworks were allowed in Beijing after a long ban. A war zone cannot be worse. It started in the afternoon and lasted til 2 am the next day. The longest and wildest firework ever! We lived between the 2nd and 3rd ring road, and people had parked their cars on Dongzhimenwai and took out tons and tons of fireworks of their completly full trunks and blow one after the other. Even from appartment buildings they were "shooting" out of windows. The next year, it was already much more moderate. Inside the second ring road the use of fireworks is limited to tonight due to risk of fires in hutongs.
Tomorrow, February 3rd 2011, is the first day of the Year of the Rabbit. In Chinese cities and in Chinatowns around the world people will be out in the streets and watching the lion dances, dragon parades and Chinese opera performances. Lots of Chinese would dress in traditional costumes or at least wear something red. The red colour stands for good luck, and the noise of the fire crackers is meant to scare evil and daemons away.
Eating and celebrating with family and friends is what happens in the next days of the Chinese New Year week. Sharing food and even sending food to far away relatives is a tradition.
However, some of the Chinese New Year sweets do not look that appealing . The nian gao ?, no, not really. So why not make your own Chinese New Year muffin or cup cake? Since the Western tradition is baking for Christmas or Easter, you might do your own Chinese New Year Baking as well. My friend Carrie (who I know from Beijing where our boys went together to kindergarten) created these absolutely beautiful cupcakes:
cupcakes by Carrie Nyon
She is so crazy about baking that she has just started a business, the "Cake Inc" in KL, Malaysia - where she has moved after Beijing - and where you can order these cupcakes and other cakes for your special occasion.
Xin Nian Kuai le !
May the New (xin) Year (nian) be Happy (kuai) for you !