The most important among the Chinese holidays is the Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year. Celebrated in Chinese communities around the world, the celebration is not only observed by the Chinese but also by people from other communities. The Chinese New Year is a two-week long festival replete with good wishes, abundant food and gatherings of family and friends.
Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year, usually between the 21st of January and the 20th of February. The Chinese lunar calendar only has 354 days. The leap month comes every three years.
This 2018, the Chinese New Year falls on February 16, the day that ushers in the year of the Earth Dog. The actual celebration starts on the eve of the first day of the lunar year. The observance continues for the next 15 days, culminating in the Lantern Festival.
Preparing for the Chinese New Year
Just like people from the West, the Chinese go through a myriad of things to do prior to welcoming the lunar year. The rituals may be different but the intent is the same – being hopeful for the coming year, starting with a clean slate in preparation to receive happiness, good luck and prosperity.
A bit of history
The first ever celebration of the Chinese New Year was to designate winter's end and the coming of spring. Our Chinese friends usually associate their agricultural cycle with their traditional holiday celebrations. Spring represents hope for a bountiful harvest and prosperity for the coming year.
The rituals include cleaning, paying off debts, cooking and decorating, although they have a schedule for each one. These preparatory activities are done one week before the New Year.
Families come together for an abundant and joyous reunion dinner on New Year's Eve. There would be firecrackers to shoo away evil spirits. The Chinese open their doors and windows to attract prosperity.
Some of the things that are prominent during the celebration are the color red, lion dances and the lighting of firecrackers.
According to folklore, there was a beast called Nian in ancient China. He hides the rest of the year and comes out only during the lunar new year to raid the villages. Nian is a bull with a lion head and he is afraid of the color red, fire and loud noises. The tradition of the lion dance and the lighting of firecrackers, banging of cymbals and wearing red is a representation of preventing Nian from raiding the villages.
Celebrating the New Year for 15 days
In China, the workers get three days off to observe the New Year. Schoolchildren have a month-long vacation. In the U.S. it is not typical to grant such a long holiday thus, the regular day-to-day celebration after New Year's Eve is quite rare.
But it is still good to know how our Chinese friends and neighbors go through the entire holiday.
Day 1: New Year's Day is the day is spent quietly after the dinners and merry-making activities the night before. Adults spend the day thinking positive thoughts while children are in their best behavior. This sets the tone for the whole year. Those who are away from family and relatives call parents and grandparents. People at home eat leftovers. No cleaning and cooking are allowed for the entire day.
Day 2: It's time to visit family and friends. The guests will be served candied sweets placed in an octagon shaped Togetherness Tray and tea. In turn guests bring small gifts and red envelopes with money for the household. Married women from the family return home with their husbands. Traditionally they stay with their in-laws on New Year's Eve.
Day 3: This is another quiet time because socializing on this day is considered bad luck, as disagreements and quarrels among family and friends can occur. This is a day for relaxation.
Day 4: Our Chinese friends prepare a huge dinner at midnight and offer spirit money, food and incense to the god of wealth and the kitchen god who return on this day.
Day 5: Many taboos of the New Year can be broken on this day, which is the birthday of the god of wealth, Po Wu. It is now safe to empty the trash, sweep the floor and open businesses that they closed for the New Year. Others stay at home to wait for the visit of the god of wealth.
Day 6: The Ghost of Poverty is sent away on this day. All old rubbish, unused items piled in the garage and old clothes are discarded.
Day 7: On this day the ancient goddess called Nu Wa, who created humans from yellow clay, is commemorated. The Chinese eat different foods that represent long life, prosperity and abundance, such as a raw fish salad called yu san and thick vegetable soup (qi bao geng).
Day 8: The Chinese celebrate rice on this day.
Day 9: It's the birthday of the Jade Emperor. He is a supreme god in Taoism, so people celebrate his day with various offerings and feasts, including live chicken offerings,
Days 10 to 12: The Chinese spend the days having fun and visiting more family and friends.
Day 13: It is time to cleanse and expel the rich and greasy food consumed on the first 12 days of the New Year. Vegetarian dishes are served and people start preparing for the Lantern Festival by buying ingredients for tang yuan as well as shop for lanterns.
Day 14: This day is spent making the tang yuan, teams practice for the lion and dragon dances and families decorate their homes with Chinese lanterns.
Day 15: The Lantern Festival is observed on the 15th day of the Lunar Year, where the first full moon of the Chinese New Year shines. Families share the tang yuan, the traditional food that is served on this particular day.
The lion dancers visit local shops to give them good luck. On the other hand, the lion dancers search through the green leaves of lettuces and cabbages left by shop owners in front of their stores to look for red money envelopes or ''hóngbāo.''
Some interesting facts
- In the early days, the Chinese New Year was celebrated at the end of the Chinese lunar calendar. The celebration was extended through the first 15 days of the first month of the year.
- The Chinese New Year is observed in places where there are large Chinese communities such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. In many countries, the observance is held in their cities' Chinatown.
- Chinese people decorate their windows and doors with red paper cuts with symbols for wealth, longevity, good fortune and happiness.
- The money contained in the red envelopes given to children should be in even number that is not divisible by four.
- A candied crab apple on a stick is a traditional treat during Chinese New Year.
- Malaysia and Singapore celebrate Lantern Day as Valentine's Day as well.
- On Chinese New Year, everyone becomes a year older regardless of the year they were born. This is something that age-conscious people from the West might not cherish.
Whether you are Chinese or a Westerner or another Asian, let us keep in mind what Chinese New Year represents – good health, wealth, prosperity and longevity. It is time to start afresh. Let go of the misfortunes from the past year and face this year with renewed hope.
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To our clients and friends who speak Cantonese, Gong Hei Fat Choy and to our Mandarin-speaking friends and clients, Gong Xi Fa Cai! Whatever Chinese language you speak, Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! May it be another bountiful new year for all of us.
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