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Spring Festival, an occasion to celebrate common humanity and shared destiny

 Global

Editor's Notes: Mroivili Faouzia from Comoros is currently studying at Tianjin University’s College of Intelligence and Computing.This year she celebrated the Spring Festival in Tianjin and wrote an article about her thoughts and feelings about the Chinese traditional festival.

As an international student at Tianjin University, I have been living in Tianjin, a metropolis in northern China, for four and a half years. During this time, I have had the privilege of participating in the Spring Festival celebrations with my Chinese friends as well as other foreigners from different countries. Through these experiences, I have discovered the richness and diversity of Chinese culture and the sense of belonging and community that the Spring Festival fosters.

Mroivili together with dorm aunties make dumplings on the New Year's Eve

The Spring Festival is the most important and celebrated festival in China, marking the end of winter and the beginning of a new year. For many Chinese people, it is a time to reunite with family, honor ancestors, and enjoy various customs and rituals. But what is it like to celebrate the Spring Festival as a foreigner living in China? How does one experience the culture, history, and spirit of this ancient festival?

As the Spring Festival of 2024 approached, I was filled with anticipation and excitement. I wondered what new and amazing experiences awaited me and how they would shape my understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture and society. Little did I know that this year's celebration would be the most memorable and transformative one of my life.

Reflecting on Past Celebrations

My first Spring Festival in Tianjin was in 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic was still raging around the world. Despite the challenges and restrictions, I was able to celebrate with my Chinese friend who invited me to her home for the New Year’s Eve dinner. She prepared a feast of dumplings, fish, chicken, and other dishes and told me the stories and meanings behind each one. We also tuned in to the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, a famous TV show that showcases performances, comedy sketches, and celebrities. We had a wonderful time, talking and laughing, and feeling the friendship and warmth of the festival.

Mroivili is invited into a local household to celebrate the Spring Festival in 2021.

The following year, in 2022, I celebrated the Spring Festival with another Chinese friend who welcomed me to her home for the New Year Eve’s dinner. We enjoyed a delicious and festive meal and celebrated the arrival of the new year. On the second day of the new year, we headed to the cinema and watched a movie together.

These past celebrations gave me a glimpse of the beauty and diversity of Chinese culture, as well as the warmth and generosity of the Chinese people. They also helped me form meaningful and lasting connections with my Chinese friends, who welcomed me into their homes and hearts. They made me feel like I was part of their family and community, and that I belonged here. But these celebrations were only the beginning of my journey. The Spring Festival of 2024 would take me to a whole new level of immersion and discovery.

Celebrating with Joy and Renewal

This year, in 2024, I had the opportunity to celebrate the Spring Festival in a more immersive and diverse way. On the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth lunar month, I posted some blessing characters on the doors and windows of our dorm, wishing us good fortune and success in the new year.

Then, I went to Tianjin Ancient Culture Street, a famous tourist attraction showcasing the architectural and artistic heritage of Tianjin. There, I learned recitation (朗诵) from a master, a form of oral literature that combines storytelling, singing, and acting. I was fascinated by the skill and expression of the master, and I tried to imitate his voice and gestures. I also bought and tasted Jianbing guozi, a popular local street food consisting of a thin pancake wrapped around a deep-fried dough stick, and rice cake, a sweet and sticky snack made from glutinous rice. I loved the crispy and savory taste of the Jianbing guozi and the soft and chewy texture of the rice cake.

Mroivili enjoys a lantern show with her friends.

On the same day, I also visited Binjiang Road, one of the most prosperous commercial streets in Tianjin. I saw the contrast between the old and the new as I walked past historical buildings, modern malls, and colorful neon lights. I felt the vitality and dynamism of the city and its blend of tradition and modernity. I bought some New Year's goods, such as red envelopes and paper cuttings, and learned about their meanings and uses. I learned that red envelopes are gifts of money symbolizing luck and prosperity and paper cuttings are artworks that decorate the windows and walls with auspicious patterns and words.

Dressed up in Chinese traditonal clothers, Mroivili takes a photo with personifying Monkey King.

Lantern shows constitute an important part of Chinese celebration of the Spring Festival. I would not miss the chance to experience one. On the first night of the Year of the Dragon, I went to the Water Park with my fellow countrymates and watched a spectacular display of lanterns there, which illuminated the lake and the sky with various shapes, colors, and patterns. We saw lanterns shaped like animals, flowers, characters, and symbols, each with a different meaning and significance. We also joined the crowds of people who were setting off lanterns into the air, making wishes for the future. We felt the joy and excitement of the festival as we shared our hopes and dreams with each other. These festivities were the heart of my Spring Festival celebration in 2024. They allowed me to experience the culture and history of Tianjin in a more immersive and diverse way. They also enabled me to connect with other foreigners who shared my passion and curiosity for Chinese culture. They made me feel the joy and renewal of the festival and the spirit of adventure and discovery.

Reunion and Resilience

The most memorable part of my Spring Festival celebration this year was New Year's Eve when I met up with schoolmates and the kind and generous women who served as dorm aunties for the foreign students on campus. We made dumplings, a traditional dish eaten on New Year's Eve. They showed me how to make the dough, fill the wrappers, and fold them into different shapes. We made a lot of dumplings and then boiled and ate them together, talking and laughing. It was a simple but unforgettable night, filled with warmth and love.

As I celebrated with my schoolmates and my dorm aunties, I realized how much our relationship had grown and evolved over the years. They had become more than classmates and caretakers; they had become friends and family. They had supported me through the difficulties and challenges of living in a foreign country and had taught me many things about Chinese culture and society. They had also learned from me and had become more open-minded and curious about the world. We had influenced and inspired each other and had formed a bond that transcended age, nationality, and language.

This tradition of making and eating dumplings on New Year's Eve was more than just a culinary activity. It was a symbol of reunion and resilience, honoring the past and embracing the present, and of sharing and caring. It was a tradition that fostered bonds of friendship and cultural exchange, reinforcing the theme of community woven throughout my narrative.

Culminating Reflections

As I look back on my experiences during the Spring Festival in Tianjin, I feel a deep sense of gratitude and enrichment. I am grateful for the opportunities I had to immerse myself in Chinese traditions and learn from them, and for the meaningful and lasting connections I formed with the local community. I feel enriched by the diversity and complexity of Chinese culture, and by the valuable insights and perspectives I gained from living in China.

Through my participation in the Spring Festival, I have discovered more about myself and my role and identity as a foreigner in China. I have come to realize that I am not merely an observer or a visitor, but also a participant and a contributor. I now understand that my appreciation and respect for Chinese culture can be shared and exchanged with others. I have also learned that I can not only benefit from Chinese society, but also contribute to it and give back in meaningful ways.

Mroivili visits Tianjin Ancient Culture Street.

My journey through the Spring Festival in Tianjin has been transformative, shaping my understanding and appreciation for Chinese culture and society, as well as for my own personal growth. It has taught me the value of tradition, community, and continuous learning, inspiring me to continue exploring and expanding my knowledge.

Closing Thoughts

The Spring Festival celebrates life, culture, and community. It invites and welcomes people from different backgrounds and walks of life to join in the celebration of our common humanity and shared destiny. It inspires and challenges us to grow, learn, and connect with ourselves and others.

As a foreigner living in China, I feel honored and privileged to be part of this festival, culture, and community. I have witnessed and experienced the richness and diversity of Chinese culture, as well as the warmth and generosity of the Chinese people. I have also shared and exchanged my own culture and perspectives, learning from the differences and similarities between us. Despite cultural and linguistic barriers, we have much in common as human beings and can learn and grow together.

Editor: Eva Yin