So this post is a little off the panda topic, but we’ll promise to tie it in at the end!
Chinese New Year is, by far, the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. The literal translation of the modern Chinese name is the Spring Festival. The celebration follows the Chinese Calendar and runs from Chinese New Year’s Day itself, the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first month, making the festival the longest in the Chinese calendar.
The origin of Chinese New Year is itself centuries old. Traditionally, the festival was a time to honor deities as well as ancestors. Regional customs and traditions vary widely. Often, the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s Day is an occasion for Chinese families to gather for the annual reunion dinner. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly cleanse the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors will be decorated with red colour paper-cuts with popular themes of “good fortune” or “happiness,” “wealth,” and “longevity.” Other activities include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red paper envelopes.
So where does this tie in to pandas? Chinese New Year is observed as a public holiday. For keepers at the Wolong and Bifengxia panda reserves, this is often the only time during the year that they are away from the base with family. What many don’t realize is that the keepers work seven days a week and live at the reserves caring for the Pandas. While some keepers have moved their families to the base as well (when both adults work for the reserve for instance), many live away from their families for the vast majority of the year and the Chinese New Year holidays are the primary time they are free to leave the reserve to visit their family.
During these holidays, other keepers come to the reserve to fill in – ensuring the pandas receive high-quality continuous care through the holidays as well.
So, to our friends and colleagues in China who spend their years in tireless dedication to our favorite bears – a very Happy Chinese New Year to each of you!