Happy New Year from Shanghai, China! Tonight the city rang in the Year of the Dog at midnight. Firecracker explosions started a few days ago, increasing in frequency and intensity steadily until about 4pm this afternoon when there was a pretty constant crackle throughout the city that continues as I write. From what I hear, it'll go on like this for at least the next five days.
The loudest night is supposed to be on the eve of the fifth day of the new year, when the Chinese god of wealth, Cai Shen, makes his rounds and blesses the loudest households with great fortune for the coming year. The streets are already littered with exploded red paper so the public works department had better get sweepin' or else we'll be swimming in a sea of red by Feb. 1...
Most every doorway in the city is festooned by red lanterns and two mandarin orange trees on either side, the trees decorated with red envelopes hanging on them like Christmas ornaments. Everyone is wishing each other happy new year (Xin Nian Kuai Le in Mandarin) and restaurants and shops all have bowls of oranges displayed prominently. Most businesses will be closed for the next five days. It's just like the Christmas holiday week--it's a time for families to come together, so many people have left the city to visit their hometowns, while (likely) just as many have returned to their family homes here. And given how dark and cold it's been here, I can also see the parallels in the timing of the holidays--red lanterns and fireworks shining brightly at the gloomiest time of the year.
It's called the Spring Festival and there's nothing like it outside this country... I can say that somewhat authoritatively because I live in San Francisco, where the Chinese New Year festivities, while raucous and exuberant, pale in comparison, like lighting a couple sparklers in your backyard on the 4th of July... In a market today, I saw three little boys looking eagerly at something on the ground, their fingers firmly plugged in their ears. Within seconds, the fiery snaps exploded and their faces lit up with the cutest, happiest smiles. If Shanghai's New Year seems massive to me, it must just swallow up their little universes in one big dragon gulp. It makes me happy to imagine the joy they're experiencing on this holiday.