Chinese New Year | An interview with Alva

At iDealwine we’re always looking to promote our French pride across the world, but an important element of the French spirit is also to share, to be open-minded, and to always be broadening our cultural horizons. With this in mind, we interviewed Alva, our representative in Hong Kong, about the importance of Chinese New Year and her impressions of France.

Could you explain where the tradition of Chinese New Year comes from?

I remember reading about the tradition of Chinese New Year when I was little, but it’s quite complicated to fully understand. Essentially, Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, which means it can happen at a slightly different time every year. That’s why it’s at a different time from New Year celebrated in the West. There is also the tradition of the animals – there is a cycle of twelve animals, and they are assigned in turn to each year. Legend says that this was a way for people to know how old they were before we counted the years in numbers. And 2020 is the year of the rat!

Like in the West, Chinese New Year is culturally important because it’s a new start! It is a moment to start afresh, wish people fortune and luck, and regain hope for gaining success in the year to come. Every year, it is the start that feels like the most important moment.

How do people usually celebrate Chinese New Year?

The first seven days of the New Year are seen as the most important, so much of this is spent celebrating. Traditionally, the first two days are spent with family, but not the third, as this is supposed to be bad luck, leading to fighting and conflicts in the family. However, people are not so superstitious now, so this day is also spent with family – though we make an extra effort not to argue! This is a time for visiting each other, sharing food and enjoying ourselves! The dining table is the central focus of the celebrations. The first thing you do when you enter a house is take some candied fruit and nuts from the box on the table – these are supposed to promise a sweet year. We also eat chocolate coins and seeds to bring wealth. This is the same reason we offer a red pocket with a small amount of money in it as a gift. We also like to drink a lot of tea – this helps to digest all the food we’re eating!

And do some people like to drink wine during the celebrations?

Yes! It depends on people’s habits and their own family traditions, but some people see the New Year as an occasion to open a bottle together. It is quite common to offer a bottle of wine as a gift, so this will often be shared during the celebrations with family and friends. It’s likely to be quite a special, expensive wine because the New Year is an important festival!

Are there any similarities or differences in how Chinese New Year is celebrated compared to the West?

The general theme is to spend time with family and friends, sharing happiness and being together, so this is definitely a similarity. A difference is that we don’t do big celebrations in the days leading up to Chinese New Year. We spend at least a week preparing for the New Year with cleaning and cooking, so that the year can begin in the most relaxed way possible. And this is a calm preparation period, so it’s not really a time for parties!

How have you found visiting France for the first time?

I like it a lot, it’s been really nice to come here! It’s very different from Hong Kong in some ways. I admire the agriculture here, and I got to see this when I visited some famous winemaking regions last week. I like that there is a long history here that you can see around you – there is a lot of effort made to preserve the old buildings and architecture, so that’s interesting. At the same time, Paris seems a lot more chaotic than Hong Kong!

What have you taken away from your short time here?

It has opened my eyes to travelling more, as I had never been to Europe before! I would like to come back so that I can explore the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions more, perhaps on a bicycle, I think this would be really nice. It has also inspired me to learn more about the history of France, so I will do some studying when I get back to Hong Kong – I would like to understand better how the country’s history has built France as it is today. I’ll also be taking back some cheese and butter with me – I can buy these things in Hong Kong, but they aren’t as good there…

Finally, you’ve only been here for a couple of weeks, but what’s your impression of the French spirit? How would you sum it up?

I think French spirit is about enjoying things in the moment. It’s quite easy-going, everyone knows that if there is a problem, we will find a solution and everything will be okay in the end. I like it because it reminds me that I don’t need to worry so much!

It has been a pleasure to have Alva with us, and we’re looking forward to strengthening our connection with wine enthusiasts across the world.