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Lesson 31

                      Thoughts on the Spring Festival

                                      Text A

    My first Spring Festival in north China was a bit of a shock. Where was the spring? There was snow on the ground and ice on the Summer Palace lake and a north-west wind was blowing. In England, where I come from, we think of the flowers that bloom in the spring; the crocuses and daffodils and the flowering tress - purple lilac, yellow laburnum, rosy horse-chestnuts, pink and white hawthorn or may. In fact we say "cast not a clout till may is out ". That means don't ieave off any ciothes until the may flower is in bloom. By then it's warm, so you won't catch cold if you shed a garment.


    Then I had another problem. in Beijing, despite the snow and ice it's often sunny over .he Spring Festival. So I liked to go out; to walk in the snow round the Summer Palace lake or to skate on Kunming Lake. Then we'd co~ne home and find that old friends had called on us whiie we were out. So gradually we iearnt the laws of the Spring Festival. The first day (chu yi
初一 ) is for feasting at home with the family and very ciose friends; the second and third days are for paying and receiving visit So we changed our holiday life style and stayed at home or called n friends those days. Of course we could still go out on chu yi.


    These days we don't always stay in Beijing for the Spring Festival ; sometimes we go on a trip to some other part of China. Last year we were lucky enough to go to I-Iainan Island. Instead of skating we went swimming. That was a treat. The sea-water in February was warmer than it is in the middle of the summer in England. That made up for those snowy, icy, windy Beijingsprings.


    1983 was another memorable festival for us.A friend of the Naxi national minority invited us to his home, in the mountains in northwest Yunnan , 2 , 000 metres above sea-level. What a wonderful place and, what wonderful people, how hospitable despite being far from wan yuan hu(
万元户)! They introduced us to their friends and relatives, as well as to their ancient culture. And it goes without saying that they wined a nd dined us with their fiery hot food. 

One very special meal was a picnic by the graves of the ancestors. This was no English style picnic with a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of beer. The Mongolian-style hotpot was carried up into the hills and there was a.regular feast for all three generations. But the first cup of wine was placed by the grave of the clan ancestor. Why shouldn't he join in the fun along with his descendants? Of course there was the usual exchange of gifts. The most precious one I received was a granddaughter - or at least a god-granddaughter nearly one yearold. I had nothing of comparable value to offer in return.


    In 1981 we went to Jiangxi and Fujian. The high point was walking in the Wu Yi Mountains, on the border of the two provinces. These mountains are not high by Chinese standards though they are higher than any in Britain. But they are icleal for hiking, even when it snows , as it did when we climbed them. The lower slopes are planted to tea bushes; above them tower spectacular crags, sheer precipices and massive rocks cleft by narrow paths You can scarcely squeeze thraugh them -especially after the continuous banqueting which is hard to avoid during
the Spring Festival.


    But the biggest banquets are not always the best. Years ago, I remember, as the festival approached, there would be a dance in the students' dining hall, to which we teachers were invited. Then there was the finest feast of all; great buckets and cauldrons of steaming laba zhou<
腊八粥), a thick, sweet porridge of glutinous rice full of green beans, candied fruit, peanuts and lotus kernels.It wasn't these ingredients alone which made the laba zhou delicious. It was the jolly atmosphere, with students, teachers, cooks and cadres all enjoying themselves together.


    In 1980 we spent the Spring Festival in Chengdu and there I got another shock. On the first day of the lunar new year - we visited a famous temple. The street outside the main gate was lined with sellers of incense. People were queuing up by the hundred to buy it and burn the incense and chant and bow, even to kowtow, as they made the rounds of the temple statues. At first I felt sad. Here we were, over 30 years after Liberation, in a socialist country, and people were still doing this! 

 

We discussed it and concluded that it had its good side. It takes time to create a scientific world outlook and these ancient practices and beli fs had evidently never been rooted out. They had simply gone underground, especially during the days of the Gang of Four. Nlow, four years after the gang's overthrow, the people felt free and unafraid, to do in the open what had been hidden in their he rts and homes. In any case, these incense burners were not a cross-section of the people. 

 

They were mostly old ladies with little bound feet, who'd been deprived of education. But then with them were their grandchildren, some wearing red scarves. That seemed terrible. Young Pioneers worshipping idols!In the end I realized that the children didn't beIieve the idols controlled their fate. They were looking after their grannies, helping them over the temple thresholds and showing them the way. So I thought, that's what they'll do as they grow up. They'll show their grannies the way into a modernized, socialist China.


                                            Text B

                                        Christmas Day

    Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on the twentyfifth of December. The Christian calendar starts in the year in which Jesus was born. The letters A'. D. with a year mean "Anno Domini" or "in the year of Our Lord".
    Christmas Day is a very happy day for many,boys and girls. Before the term ends in some schools, the children act a nativity or "birth" play, showing how Jesus was born in a stable.


    Many of the celebrations at Christmas are old customs. Some fathers dress up in a red cloak and put on a long white beard. They pretend to be Father Christmas , or Santa Claus, and put presents by the beds of their children. The words Santa Claus are a way of saying Saint Nicholas, a good man who helped poor people and gave presents to them more than 300 years after Jesus was born.


    To most Christians in Europe and America, Christmas Day finishes the year, although there are still a few days left after it. Shop windows are decorated with Christmas trees some months before December, and notices are put up saying "68 shopping days to Christmas" or "21 shopping days to Christmas". Cotton wool is stuck on to the shop windows to look like snow, and holly and mistletoe are hung up.


    Parents buy presents for their children. Then they have to hide them in the house to stop the children from finding out what "Father Christmas" is going to bring them.
    On the twenty-fourth of December, all children are very excited. Usually they are sent to bed early so that their parents can get the presentsready. The younger children think that Father Christmas will come down the chimney or fireplace, so they hang up a sock for him to put presents in. The greedy.

 ones even hang up a pillow-case or a sack to try to get more presents. Later that night, Father or Mother will put presents in the sock, and leave others at the side of the bed.
    On Christmas morning, the children wake up very early. Some even turn on the light at two o'clock, and most of them are awake by six o'clock although it is not light in England for another hour or two at this time of the year.


    hildren look for their presents, and the young ones play while the dinner is prepared. At about one o'clock in the afternoon, the Christmas dinner is brought in. The turkey or chicken is quickly eaten. Children search in their Christmas pudding for new coins which are hidden in it. The rest of the day is full of games and eating until the happiest of all Christian holidays comes to an end.

                                Additional Information

    Now that the Spring Festival is over, I only have school to look forward to. lt's really funny, I find myself looking forward more and more to school.


    As usual I can get little work done during the winter vacation. For one thing, the Spring Festival is always a big distraction, and for days before and after nobody can get any work done. It's all right if you really have a nice time, as I used to. But now I find myself enjoying it less and less. I stopped enjoying fireworks and firecrackers years ago. The firecrackers especially get on my nerves.

 I really think we should stop making them, as every year many children have their eyes hurt or even blinded. Even worse sometimes fires are started and whole buildings get burned down. Still I suppose we'll continue to make them as long as there is a market for them.


    And the food! People spend days queuing and buying. The result - too much and too rich food which does nobody any good. Chicken, duck, fish, pork, beef, mutton, - name what you will. What's more they become oa;eless too. Too much of a good thing, as we say. And this visiting business too. It's all right for a few really good friends to get together and chat over some tea or drinks.

 But mere acquaintances and the usually not too neighbourly neighbours dropping in to say hello-well, I suppose these are well-intended gestures, but I find them a pain in the neck. Usually there is nothing to talk about except some meaningless platitudes.
    Mum is looking very tired, and no wonder Dad too, I think. found the whole thing a strain. The only two who really enjoyed the Spring Festival are Granny and Xiao Hong. Still Spring Festival comes only once a year.


    Oh yes, I did enjoy myself skating on the nearby lake quite a few times. The ice is not too good now and getting very thin. I stopped going before the Spring Festival. But there are people who are either too reckless or too ignorant or both, and we hear about people falling through thin ice every year.