Chinese New Year, Mardi Gras, and Ash Wednesday

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Three holidays in a row.

Even though in the West, we follow the Gregorian calendar, some of our holidays and observances are determined by the lunar calendar, so we’re never sure when those holidays will fall. This year, Chinese New Year, Mardi Gras, and Ash Wednesday come one right after the other.

Chinese New Year always falls on the first new moon on or after January 21st. Finding Ash Wednesday is a bit more complicated. It’s six weeks and four days before Easter, and Easter is on the first full moon after March 21st.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival. It’s China’s biggest holiday, a time to clean your house and reconnect with your family, eat special food, exchange gifts and red envelopes filled with money, shoot off fireworks, and much, much more. The festivities start on the eve of the new year and–for the hearty reveler–last for the next fifteen days.

As for me, I send my grandchildren cards and red envelopes. That’s about it.

Here’s a link,  to an excellent photo essay about celebrating Chinese New Year in Manila’s Chinatown.

Tight-lipped_monkey-man_(3228047946)Year of the Monkey

2016 is the Year of the Red Fire Monkey. The Year of the Sheep (Goat), which is just ending, was supposed to have been influenced by that dignified, sure-footed animal. Monkeys, on the other hand, have a reputation for being intelligent and playful, tricksters who feel no guilt when they turn things upside-down.

With the monkey’s wit and energy, the year ahead should be interesting.

Mardi Gras

Mardi_Gras_2012_-_Honolulu_Baton_Dancer by Kyle NishiokaIf you’re a Christian who observes Lent, Fat Tuesday is your last chance to live it up. Whether you head to New Orleans, your favorite bar, an ice cream parlor, or a pastry shop, Tuesday is a good day for eating, drinking, and making merry before embarking on forty days of prayer and fasting.

I’m not fond of beer, but a hot fudge sundae or strawberry milkshake sounds like a good splurge to me. Other possibilities: piña colada, shrimp tempura, and churros y chocolate. I could go on and on.

Ash Wednesday

Ash_Wednesday, by Lolcatss - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwikiFileAsh_Wednesday.jpg#mediaFileAsh_Wednesday.jpgWhen the sun comes up the following day, the party’s over. It’s Ash Wednesday, the day our foreheads get marked with ashes and we’re reminded of our mortality.

Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.

Meménto, homo, quia pulvis es, et in púlverem revertéris

Fastenbrezel, Fastenbrezel by Manuela Paki-Costa - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwikiFileFastenbrezel.JPG#mediaFileFastenbrezel.JPGIt’s also the first day of Lent, the forty-day-long season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in preparation for Easter.

Whoops! I forgot about the Super Bowl on Sunday. It looks like we have four things in a row.

Do you watch the Super Bowl, celebrate Chinese New Year, party for Mardi Gras, or observe Lent? Does anyone do all four?

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About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She's working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early '90s.
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36 comments


  1. In college, I once celebrated Fat Tuesday at a restaurant named Fat Tuesday. It got a little out of hand for my taste, Nicki. 🙂 Yes, I do observe Lent and I’ll definitely be tuning into the Super Bowl. Despite being a Washington Redskin fan, since I live in Charlotte, I’ll be pulling for the Panthers this evening. Great photos!

    • We had a little Super Bowl party when the Seattle Seahawks were playing–an exciting game with a crazy, disappointing ending. This year, my sister and I are going to a movie. I’ll probably watch a replay of the halftime, see what Coldplay, Beyonce and Bruno Mars did.

  2. My church observes Lent, so we have an Ash Wednesday service. I usually watch the Super Bowl. And I’ll get together with some friends on Saturday for their annual Chinese New Year celebration (rather than tomorrow). We’ll have hot pot!

    • A hot pot with friends! That sounds like a good way to celebrate.

      You’d think the Ash Wednesday service, with its reminders of death, would be more unpopular than it is. Maybe thinking about death makes us more determined to find meaning in life.

  3. Traveller at heart

    Now that I live in a very small city in Turkey where there are very few expat workers, one has to be mindful. Life has a funny way of bringing abundance to one but it can happily take it away without any thought.

    The Year of the Red Fire Monkey has already made its impact. It’s a year of new beginnings; A Year of a number of ‘Firsts’. I had the jitters earlier on but the cloud has lifted. Moving on and putting my best foot forward, do I start with the left or the right foot? It’s something to think about.

    • Your comments always seem to me to be a little bit mysterious and at the same time generously open. Good luck on your new beginnings. I’m glad the cloud has lifted, and your only problem is whether to start with the left or the right foot.

  4. Well, I practiced eating donuts yesterday! Does that count?

  5. Thank you, Nicki, for blogging about these important events. I usually do but I was away from home and didn’t get a chance to write as much from my blog. Glad to catch up, thanks to your post.

    • Looking at my calendar, I was struck to see three occasions in a row. I shouldn’t have been. After all, Ash Wednesday always follows Mardi Gras. Anyway, it gave me a chance to write a little bit about each one. I didn’t think about the Super Bowl until after I’d scheduled the post.

  6. I am all about adding holidays. The Chinese-American guy didn’t really do much for Chinese New Year until I showed up, but now we celebrate with dim sum and red envelopes for young relatives (stay tuned for more on the blog). We also tried to make King Cake one year. Twice. Flopped both times. (And we were using Emeril’s recipe! How can that be?!) As for Lent, well, we go crazy on Fat Tuesday and then give stuff up for Lent.

    No ashes, though.

    • I read about the people in China going mad about Chinese New Year, but my Chinese-American husband didn’t do much either beyond the red envelopes and suggesting we have long noodles or a whole fish for dinner. I don’t know how much he celebrated the New Year when he was growing up, first during wartime, then for a couple of years in Taiwan, then living in Japan, and later in the Philippines and then the US. Plus, I suppose most of the preparations and concern are on the woman’s shoulders.

  7. I’ve never heard of Fat Tuesday, though I’ve always celebrated Ash Wednesday. I am watching the Super Bowl.

  8. I watched the SuperBowl ~> Congrats to Denver on winning SB 50! If Peyton Manning does retire . . . he went out on his 200th high note!

    We might go to an Illumination Night to celebrate the Chinese New Year tomorrow night.

    I don’t celebrate on Mardi Gras, go to church for Ash Wed, or give up anything for Lent.

    • My sister and I watched “The Martian” instead of the Super Bowl, but I did watch the highlights afterwards. “The Martian” was good. It’s fun to see a clever person come up with solutions to seemingly insoluble problems.

      If you do decide to go to Illumination Night, Nancy, I hope it will be enjoyable.

  9. That is quite a few celebratory occasions, and throw in the Superbowl it sounds like celebrations non-stop all round for about a week. I do Chinese New Year, or the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival whichever people want to call it. Here in Australia there are Chinese New Year celebrations all throughout the next couple of weeks. Today there were lion and Chinese dancing downstairs at the food court in my office building. The noise was distracting, but it was hard not to get caught up in the festive spirit.

    • I’d say that having the lion dance downstairs in your building is worth the distraction. Nice! I haven’t heard of any lunar new year shows in my town, although there’s lots going on in the International District in Seattle.

      Happy Year of the Monkey, Mabel.

  10. I never watch the Super Bowl ~ one of the few who don’t watch. Chinese New Year sounds like fun but the coming Year of the Red Fire Monkey sounds like there might be mischief ahead. As for Lent, I think I’ll go have a hot fudge sundae tomorrow 🙂

    • My sister and I were watching a movie during the Super Bowl. The roads were quieter than usual but not totally empty. So I guess we’re not the only ones who don’t watch football. My daughter went to a “Half Super Bowl Party.” All the attendees had small children, so they watched until half-time. Then they took their kids home and put them to bed.

      I love hot fudge sundaes. I haven’t had one in ages. I was thinking today how my mom used to make these enormous banana splits for all of us: three scoops of ice cream topped with chocolate, butterscotch, and marshmallow sauces, nuts, and a cherry. It’s hard to believe.

      • The “Half Super Bowl Party” is a great idea for people with young children. My hubby and I are cat lovers so we watched the “Kitten Bowl” on the Hallmark Channel. It’s a lot of fun for us.
        We went out for lunch today but I didn’t get a hot fudge sundae. I did have ice cream, though. Yum!

        • I love cats too. Since I’m a fan of Bruno Mars, I watched the Half-time show. Also Lady Gaga did a good national anthem.
          My Mardi Gras treat was a big slice of coconut cream cake.

  11. My brother lives just outside of New Orleans. This year is party time for them. They have been in full swing attending balls etc…parades, floats, concerts, dinners, parties! I went once many years ago, and the crowds and chaos are a bit too much for me.

    • The first I learned about the celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans was when reading The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. It sounds like it’s unbelievably elaborate. I think it would be too much for me too.

  12. I have never watched the Super Bowl, but I do hear a lot about the commercials and half-time show – apparently, a lot of people actually tune in for these two reasons.

    As you know, I celebrate Chinese New Year.

    • I watched the game last year when the Seattle Seahawks played. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed watching it. Not enough to watch it every year though.

      Happy Chinese New Year, Constance, to you and your family.

  13. Happy Chinese New Year. And thanks for explaining Ash Wednesday. I had no idea! Yeaaa Broncos!

  14. The first time I heard about the Ash Wednesday was when I read Chocolat by Joanne Harris. The first chapter of the book is about the festival before the fasting days began. 😀

    You are right about the Monkey being a trickster! Despite it is the year of the Fire Monkey, most part of Asia is suffering from Water Elements! Cold weather in Malaysia and Floods in many places in Indonesia (including the town I live in)!

  15. Pingback: 2017, the Year of the Rooster. | BEHIND THE STORY

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