By Zhiming Zhang
The Opening Market bell ceremonies at the Nasdaq in New York’s Times Square usually serve as a platform for company exposure. But not today.
This year, January 27 is the Chinese New Year’s Eve. So the Chinese consul general in New York, Qiyue Zhang, rang the opening bell at 9:30 a.m.
The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is the biggest event in China, having seen more than 4,000 years of celebrations based on the Chinese calendar.
For the Chinese, each year is associated with one of 12 animal signs: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. This is the year of the rooster. And for people who turn 12 or any age divisible by 12—24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84, 96, or beyond in 2017—they have a special affinity for the rooster. They are, in fact, known as roosters.
Chinese people usually get together with family and friends and share special foods based on the regions of China from which their family hails. So Chinese supermarkets in Chinatown, like Hong Hong Supermarket at 157 Hester St., get busy. On Friday around noon, most shoppers at Hong Kong each carried home more than two bags of food.
“I still can’t believe that I only spent $20 and got this much food,” a young man said to his friend in Chinese. “Welcome to Chinatown, and happy new year,” his friend replied.
Mingjuan Gao, 43, from Fuzhou, China, has worked at Hong Kong Supermarket cutting and arranging vegetables for more than four years. She said Chinese New Year’s Eve and the day of Chinese New Year would be the busiest time for the market—at least several thousand customers each day. “Each year, I can’t even feel my hands after working for these two days,” Gao said, in Chinese.
Steps away from Hong Kong Supermarket, people were busy shopping at Niu Shop, 75 Chrystie St, to buy traditional Chinese decorations—like Chinese door decorations, red envelopes for monetary gifts, and traditional red lanterns. The color red represents good luck in Chinese culture. Older relatives put pocket money in red envelopes and give them to children. The image of a fish always appears on the decorations, because the word for fish sounds similar to “surplus” in Chinese, implying abundance.
For people who do not want to cook, Chinese restaurants are their havens for a big meal.
Yunchou Liu, 50, is the owner of a restaurant named Happy Hot Hunan, 969 Amsterdam Ave. The restaurant opens from 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. every day, and Liu said the restaurant would be open for the Chinese New Year’s Eve and the day of Chinese New Year—the busiest time for his restaurant because people always come in groups.
On the other hand, Chinese hair salons will have a lot of customers during the New Year’s Eve but will be closed the day after. Steven Liu, manager of the 18-year-old Mian Tian Sing Hair Salon, 170 Canal St, said Chinese people, especially those from Northern China, would cut their hair before the New Year and wait until Dragon Head-raising Day, the second day of the second lunar month, to get their next haircut.
“I decided to give employees a break for the day of New Year because almost no customer comes at the day of New Year, and my employees need to spend time with their family, too,” he said, in Chinese.
But not all people have the luck to gather with their family during the Chinese Spring Festival, and Xuechen Yu is one of them. After a moments’ thought, she said in conversation, she realized that she had not spent the past seven years’ Chinese New Year’s Eve with her family in China. And she is going to miss this year’s family gathering as well.
Yu, 23, from Shenyang, China, is finishing her degree, a Master of Science in nutrition science, at Columbia University. She came to the U.S. for high school in 2009. Since then, she had not come back to China for the New Year’s Eve because Chinese New Year always happen in January or February, and she always had school to finish at that time.
She said she would usually gather with her friends on New Year’s Eve. If the New Year’s Eve happened to be a weekday, she would spend a day of her weekend to celebrate.
She said her worst New Year’s Eve experience was when she was a sophomore studying biochemistry at UCLA. She was studying so hard that she did not realize it was New Year’s Eve until very late. “New Year’s Eve was the day I looked forward to the most when I was little, and I just cannot believe that there would be a day I totally forgot the most important day of the year,” Yu said, in Chinese.
She said she would spend this year’s New Year’s Eve with her boyfriend. They would cook some traditional Chinese food and watch the Spring Festival Gala Evening, a show millions of people back in China watch on China Central Television on Chinese New Year’s Eve.
And she plans to spend a lot of time Skyping with her parents and grandparents.“I miss them a lot,” she said. “And I hope they will be well and happy for the next year.”
The Columbia’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association has been sponsoring its version of a Spring Festival Gala—elaborate music, dance and drama performances—since 1996. While Chinese New Year’s Eve fell on Jan. 27 this year, the event was held on Sunday night January 29 at Lerner Hall Auditorium, and attracted about 1,000 people, mostly students. The three-hour-long show included traditional Chinese dance, singing, comic dialogue, stage plays, and a magic show.
Minghao Cheng, 24, from Anyang, China, a third-year physics Ph.D. student and the president of Columbia University Chinese Students and Scholars Association, said the most rewarding moment came when he saw audience members waving their phones with flashlights on to respond the singers on the stage. “The group’s hard work for the past few months paid off,” he said in Chinese.
This story was updated on February 2, 2017.