Local instructor explains significance of Chinese New Year traditions and how she celebrates here in the U.S.

BUCKHANNON – Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, marks the beginning of Chinese New Year, one of the most significant festivals for Chinese people, including a local language instructor at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

To mark the occasion, My Buckhannon talked to Buckhannon-Upshur High School Chinese teacher Caifeng Feng to learn about the Chinese New Year and its traditions.

Feng said she grew up in Northern China, where the Chinese New Year celebration is the most important holiday. She said the date for the Chinese New Year is the first day of the first month of the Lunar New Year.

Feng said as a child, she listened to legends of Nian, a ferocious monster with sharp teeth and horns.

“There was a story about the new year where Nian was a monster,” she said. “He came to the villages to eat animals (livestock) and steal food (their crops). People were very afraid of the Nian and tried to get him to go away. There was an old man who came to the village and said that Nian is afraid of the color red and the noise that is made by firecrackers. So, it became a tradition for folks to make firecrackers and fireworks and put them off and to use the color red, which is a symbol of luck, joy and happiness.”

She said following that, Chinese people began decorating their doors with red couplets, which are good wishes or statements for good luck.

But exactly what is a couplet? A couplet is a Chinese art, and a red couplet is the decoration of the Chinese New Year that is pasted on the door.

“A couplet is an entirety, it has three parts — the first line (right scroll), the second line (left scroll) and the top line (the horizontal scroll),” Feng said.

“It is [found] on the doors on the left, right or top,” she added. “They are made of red paper and Chinese calligraphy. They are about good fortune, luck or best wishes for the next year. It is like a New Year’s decoration.”

Prior to the beginning of the Chinese New Year, people prepare for the new year by shopping for new items and by cleaning their homes, Feng explained. They purchase new food to fill their pantries and clean everything in hopes of welcoming the festival to a clean environment, removing the dust and driving away old things.

“We buy new food to get ready for the new year to get rid of the old and prepare for the new,” Feng said. “On Chinese New Year Day, we will dress in brand new clothes – everything is new because it is the Chinese New Year.”

Feng said the Chinese Calendar cycles through a zodiac of animals, and 2022 is the year of the Tiger.

“We will celebrate from the first day through the 15th,” she said. “We will have family time. We will spend time with our family.”

Feng said during the Chinese New Year, they have traditions similar to gift-giving on Christmas in the U.S.

“For us, the younger generation gives the older generation a New Year’s greeting,” she shared. “After they give the older generation a greeting, those from the older generation give the younger generation a red envelope. Inside the red envelope is cash.”

Even though Feng does not live in her native country of China, she still is able to send and receive greetings on her smartphone.

“I can use my smartphone to send a digital greeting. When my family opens it, it looks like a red envelope,” she said. “On the inside you can see the greeting. I receive digital greetings, and when I open the red envelope, there is money that those from the older generation send me. We do utilize technology to keep our traditions.”

Feng said that during the Chinese New Year celebrations, food has a huge place at the table.

“Food is very important, and the traditions are different in North and South China. In the North, we eat lots of things made from flour, such as bread and noodles. In the South, they eat a lot of rice. So, in the North, where I am from, traditionally, we eat dumplings for the Chinese New Year. In the South they eat rice cakes. We also include fish, chicken and duck in our traditional New Year foods – also, lots of vegetables, candy and snacks.”

Even though she’s separated from her family this year, Feng still has special plans to pay homage to the Chinese New Year.

“This year, because I am working, I will cook some Chinese dumplings for myself,” she said, “It is a great time for family. On Chinese New Year’s Eve, there is a national television show – as important as the American Super Bowl – and everyone stays up late. The Chinese celebrities are honored by their performances being selected to appear on this show. We watch television together.”

Feng, who teaches Chinese as a second language at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, chose her career as a teacher because she had always enjoyed Chinese literature as a young child.

“I got my graduate degree and learned all about the Chinese language,” she said. “I love learning about other cultures, and I studied teaching Chinese as a second language and then I went to Thailand for two years where I taught Chinese. I learned that the United States was looking for Chinese teachers and I came here but did not know the language well. I have been here for four years, having taught at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School for two years and B-UHS for two years.”

Feng said she hopes everyone has a Happy Chinese New Year.

“I want more people to get to know about the Chinese culture and be open to learning the Chinese language,” Feng said. “It is a very fun class, and the students enjoy learning. My wish is to bring something good to the Buckhannon community, to Upshur County and to the students.

“I am happy to share about my culture and to learn about the culture here in Buckhannon,” she added. “I want people to communicate my culture to others and have them understand mine as well. I think when the students learn about the Chinese culture, it opens their mind and, in the future, they will have more possibilities and opportunities to see the world.”

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