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New Year Minority Celebrations

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods

Summer Volume: 2014 Issue: 21(2) page(s): 22 and 23


Close to ten percent of the total population of China are the fifty-five ethnic minority populations. Their numbers are growing because they have no one child restriction. Some restrictions are being lifted for the Han or majority population, but only if one or both parents are an only child.

More than a dozen of the ethnic groups are of Arabic descent. Most of them live in close proximity to the Han and more of them are adopting uniform celebrations. Even the foods of the Han or majority population are showing less diversity than before. All Chinese populations are more similar in their dietary and their celebratory behaviors for this holiday than ever before. The government does give a one week holiday to almost everyone in China, and most do celebrate the New Year, which most also call Spring Festival.

Below are some of the differences, discussed hereafter in alphabetic not population-size order. It is customary for most of them to have some niangao or New Year Cake that they serve to family and friends during the first week of this holiday. Generally, this holiday falls between the end of December through about the end of the third week in January. Each year it is on different dates because it is determined by their Lunar calendar.

Their foods are not always the same but they are now very similar. They are almost always made of rice, and they use to be steamed. These cakes do vary in size, shape, color, and taste, sometimes in temperature, and many Chinese like them hot and believe them a must during this festival. Some bakeries make them year-round; some families do, too. Many like theirs soft and sticky, others prefer other textures.

To make these cakes takes lots of pounding and that used to be considered a man's job. Though mostly made using rice as the main ingredient, some add fruits, nuts, vegetables, seafood, chicken, or pork to the rice. These days, some are fried, others boiled in soup or congee, some mixed or scrambled, others even roasted. Sometimes they are sliced and dried, some look like popcorn, others are shaped like animals, fruits or vegetables, some even resembling specific people.

One court minister during the Qing Dynasty, did give some to Empress Cixi during her reign (1861 to 1908 CE); and since they are more popular than ever. Different ethnic minority populations celebrate this holiday making their family's favorite foods, with different families and those in different regions giving them local tastes. There are other behaviors more specific by their specific ethnic group, some of these follow: BAI like to do dragon and whip dances, and the young folk like to launch rockets when singing and dancing during this popular festival.

DULONG use a day for their festivities during the last month of their Lunar Year. On that day, they like to offer beef to their gods, dance about, then share beef among themselves.

DONG on the New Year Day, gather with their sheng or bamboo musical instruments and sing and dance for many hours on that day.

HANI build and play on a huge two-person swings they have set up earlier. These holiday swings can be thirty feet or taller.

HEZHE enjoy their family reunion dinner as do the Han, on New Year's Eve. At it, the most important activity is to tell stories, recite poems, and dance before and during their large reunion dinner. Most often it is held at the home of the most senior family member.

KOREAN people stay up late on New Year's Eve to dance and sing and have many sport competitions. These seem more important than any reunion dinner.

LI ethnic folks dress up and sing 'Happy New Year' songs, then have a late reunion dinner.

LISU boys play 'shooting' games, their girls grab a long pole and put an embroidered pouch atop. Then, should a young fellow shoot it down, they give him a bowl of wine to drink then and there.

MANCHU boys gather and set off firecrackers, and if the weather permits, they have sleigh ride races while the girls play games and dance. They do these activities for five consecutive days.

MONGOLIANS call this their 'White Festival' and during the first month of their New Year which they call the 'White Month,' they dine as a family and have lots of food and wine. Then on the next morning, they get up early and go to visit their friends.

TIBETANS do special dances on their New Year's Eve, then on the next morning, women go fetch water which they call 'good luck water' and bring it back into their homes.

TUJIA dance, too, and they wave their hands in specific ways. They also watch plays and operas, do lion and dragon dances, and walk on stilts bring in the New Year.

YI celebrate with a tiger festival on the eighth day of the first month of their Lunar Calendar.

ZHUANG celebrate for three consecutive days beginning on their first New year day. During them, they spin tops in competition and those spins the longest, wind; they also dance, sing antiphonal songs, and play ball games.

                                                                                                                                                       
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