Yang Li and Cathy Zhang, 2, are curious about the crowd of hundreds surrounding them. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Yang Li and Cathy Zhang, 2, are curious about the crowd of hundreds surrounding them at the Chinese New Year celebration at the Lasipalatsi Square in Helsinki on Wednesday, February 18 2015. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Today begins the longest and most important holiday in the Chinese calendar. For the next 15 days, approximately one sixth of our planet’s population will celebrate Chinese New Year. In a world where tradition is becoming increasingly scarce with each passing day it’s impressive to see such an engaging exercise in ancient traditions, faith, and spirituality at Helsinki’s Chinese New Year Festival. It made me wonder why exactly has the holiday been celebrated in Helsinki now since 2007 and what is it that connects the two cultures beyond the local immigrant population and Finnish global curiosity.

The Chinese New Year Festival, shows the magical and creative side of China, which is all about promise, good fortune, and hope.

The Chinese population here in Finland is small but promising. As the fifth largest foreign population in the country, there are approximately 8500 Chinese people living in Finland. Amongst those, nearly 6700 are living in the Uusimaa region. The most interesting statistic is easily the fact that the population surrounding the Helsinki region has almost tripled in the past six years.

My limited exposure to Chinese culture has led me to believe the people are strict, bold, and technical. But like many things, it’s too easy to gather information through various channels, and develop a somewhat limited perspective of reality. The Chinese New Year Festival, shows the magical and creative side of China, which is all about promise, good fortune, and hope.

The festival, traditionally, preceded the farming season and had many implications about the harvest for the upcoming year. Throughout the dynasties, many of the ideas and traditions have been modified, but the themes still apply to modern Chinese citizens. The festival is celebrated with a variety of activities which include musical performances, traditional dancing, and elaborate costumes parading through the streets.

Lion dancers are getting ready for their performance behind the stage. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Lion dancers are getting ready for their performance behind the stage. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

One of the legends of Chinese New Year is The story of Nian, which tells us about a mythical predatory beast ( picture a lion with a unicorn’s horn ) that would leave it’s mountain den every New Year to devour livestock and humans until one year an older man chased the beast away using firecrackers. It is believed that the noise, flashing light, and red color from the firecrackers is what keeps the beast from returning which is why each year the celebration includes the hanging of red banners or scrolls, fireworks, and the Lantern Festival.

A typical Chinese household is dusted completely just before New Years Eve and then the brooms and dust pans are put away. Sweeping on New Year’s Day is unacceptable as it prevents the initial accumulation of good fortune for the coming year. Following New Year’s Day it is acceptable to sweep again, but the rubbish must remain in the house until the 5th day, at which point in can be removed through the back door. Sweeping and removing the rubbish through the front door would sweep away any good fortune coming to the family of the household.

New Year’s Eve features a great dinner with family followed by Shousui which translates to staying up late to witness the arrival of the New Year. The next day is spent visiting relatives. It’s customary for younger generations to visit their elders to wish them  health and longevity while children are commonly sleeping on red envelopes (filled with money for luck) during the first five days of the New Year.

What impresses me the most about this holiday is not the duration or the flair with which the programs unfold, but the faith.

The celebration continues in a peaceful and relaxing fashion with friends and family until day 15 when the red lanterns are released into the sky. In China’s faced paced culture, the holiday offers a much-needed rest for everyone to mentally recharge and spend time with those who matter most.

What impresses me the most about this holiday is not the duration or the flair with which the programs unfold, but the faith. Good fortune seems a little intangible but each year the Chinese manage to put the rat-race on hold for 15 days to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor. I’ll always envy those who believe in things they can neither see nor touch and the Chinese New Year makes evident to me a culture who possesses imagination, zeal, and loads of hope for the future regardless of location or population.

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