Beginning of a New Year

Today is the beginning of the Spring Festival holiday in China, which many refer to as the Chinese New Year. Everyone is tired. Virtually everyone in China stays up to bring in the new year, usually watching the national gala broadcast on CCTV that is the dream of every artist in China to perform in.

And then there are the fireworks. It would be difficult to overstate the level and duration of noise created. They go on, quite literally, all night. I’ve tried desperately to understand the justification and have come up with many theories including dispelling demons, opening a gateway for the good luck of the new year to enter by, and just plain celebration and fun.

In the end I’ve decided I’m approaching the issue too much like a Westerner, consumed as I am with cause and effect. They just do it. “Why do you need to understand everything?” they ask.

For me, Spring Festival is a delightful time. Warm weather is just around the corner. Families are together. And I don’t have to wake up to an alarm clock.

I read an interesting article recently, by the way, concerning a survey of Americans on which is their favorite day of the week. Saturday, not surprisingly, came in first. Friday, however, not Sunday, was the runner up. Even the thought of not having to work the next day, it appears, is more appealing to us than a day of actually not having to work. Says a lot, I think, about how much real fulfillment most people get from their work.

But there is something even more relaxing about Spring Festival than not having to go to work. And I think I’ve figured out what.

Nobody is working. Your boss isn’t working. Your colleagues aren’t working. The tele-marketers aren’t working. The government isn’t working. There is no bad news to report. There is nobody on the television posturing for some cause, or re-election, or in favor of some new legislation. The world, within China anyway, is thinking of nothing else other than family, and, of course, fireworks and good luck.

It’s probably not a sustainable model. In additional to the incredible strain it puts on the transportation infrastructure it’s probably not a viable economic model in the inter-connected world of modern commerce. Buyers were willing to wait for your sneakers when you made them at a price no one else could touch, but that probably won’t be the case when you’re making super-computers or exporting advanced machine tools.

I used to think that eliminating the national Golden Week holidays, as they are called, and giving everyone more vacation time that they can use when they want would be a good thing. The Chinese could visit their favorite vacation spots without the overbearing crowds at a time of year that fit their personal schedule. You wouldn’t need to do so much planning about when you’re going to go to the bank or renew your driver’s license. Life would be simpler.

Still, I think something would be lost. In my 35+ years in the corporate world I’ve never been able to decompress on a vacation, no matter how exotic, as I do during Spring Festival. All of life is personal, as Freud said, and the reality is that the other people who touch our lives will not support our decompression unless they, too, are attempting to decompress from the everyday rigors of life.

If you’re on vacation and your boss is not it may not be quite the same as a vacation. Or if you’ve got accounting deadlines to meet you might not get dispensation if you’re the only one on vacation that week.

But the relaxation Spring Festival brings goes beyond the ability to truly unplug from the commercial world. There is a connection to everyone around you that flows from the fact that you’re all sharing the identical holiday in the identical way.

The Americans have Christmas, of course, but it’s not quite the same. There are sizeable populations of Jews, Muslims, atheists and others who don’t celebrate the holiday – or at least don’t celebrate it for the same reasons. And even within the Christian community the holiday means different things to different people. About the only real common denominator is that it is generally a day off from work.

Spring Festival, by contrast, is a true celebration of what it means to be Chinese. It holds the same level of importance and meaning to each and every Chinese person. That might be a slight exaggeration since the commitment to honor the traditional rituals differs between generations, but it is true overall.

I find that oddly comforting. Perhaps it’s simply the validation that there’s still something that we can all rally behind; that we haven’t all become so self-absorbed in our individual identity that we can let down our guard and just be one of the pack for a few days.

What I find particularly interesting is that very few Chinese people can tell you how they determine which day will be the first day of Spring Festival in any given year. It’s very hard to imagine the deductive West accepting the date of the most important holiday of the year having no idea how it was determined.

Thanksgiving in the US, after all, is always the third Thursday of November. Christmas Day is always December 25. Hanukkah is always held on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar. Ramadan begins at the time of the new moon in the ninth lunar month.

And what about Spring Festival? Well it doesn’t fall on the first day of spring. That was February 4, 2015 by the Chinese calendar, which is a lunisolar calendar, defined by both the lunar phases and the solar seasons. Each month is determined by the moon’s alignment with the sun and the sun’s longitude measured in 30-degree increments. It runs in sixty-year cycles, or, more precisely, a ten-year cycle (yin and yang versions of the five elements, e.g fire, earth, etc.) and the twelve-year cycle of the zodiac, which run concurrently, creating a sixty-year life cycle since sixty is the first number divisible by both ten and twelve.

The Chinese New Year starts during the beginning of the first new moon and ends the night of the next full moon of each of those years – a period of approximately fifteen days. (They call it Spring Festival only because that is the literal translation of the holiday’s current Chinese name.) Got it?

Whatever. The inductive-inclined Chinese don’t seem to care how it’s determined. I’ve yet to hear a Chinese person inquire as to how it’s determined or venture an opinion. It just is what it is. (If you ask for an explanation you will get a wide variety of answers and the certainty of a quizzical look.)

And there is something relaxing and decompressing in that by itself. Why do we in the West believe we need to understand every damn cause and effect? What if we just accepted some things as they are and didn’t worry about it?

Perhaps that, after all, is the key to the Chinese miracle. Perhaps it’s got little to do with the political or economic systems they employ, or their work ethic, or the years of suffering and sacrifice. Perhaps it all comes down to the ability and willingness to think inductively, to simply accept some things as they are and believe, beyond any rational explanation, that this year will be a lucky year.

Isn’t that the basis of hope? And wouldn’t deductive thinkers agree that hope is the essence of both social development and the good life?

We have now entered the Year of the Sheep, which some refer to as the Year of the Goat.  That's because both have the same name in Chinese.
We have now entered the Year of the Sheep, which some refer to as the Year of the Goat. That’s because both have the same name in Chinese.

Note: The author also writes novels under the pen name of Avam Hale. You can find them in the Amazon Kindle store and they can be read on any mobile device loaded with the free Kindle App, available for all operating systems.

Copyright © 2015 Glassmaker in China

Notice:  The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.  They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.