This is the biggest celebration in China. If you live in an area that has a Chinatown, chances are that at some point you’ve watched the Chinese New Year celebrations. However, Chinese New Year (also called the Spring Festival) doesn’t begin and end on a single weekend. Instead, the Spring Festival lasts a full fifteen days, the celebration runs traditionally from the evening preceding the first day (chúxī), to the 15th day of the first calendar month Lantern Festival (yuánxiāojié) with preparations beginning before the old year has come to a close. By the time the New Year arrives, families have already spent several days preparing for the big event; cleaning the house, buying gifts, and cooking festive foods.
People often wonder why the date for Chinese New Year changes each year. The Chinese calendar is a combination solar/lunar calendar, based on a number of rather complex astronomical calculations, including the longitude of the sun. Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice (all months begin with a new moon). The Chinese lunar calendar is associated with the Chinese zodiac, which has 12 animal signs: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, Rooster, dog, and pig. Each animal represents a year in a 12-year cycle, beginning on Chinese New Year’s Day. 2015 was a year of the goat, while 2016 is the year of the monkey, 2017, is going to be the year of the Rooster. The Chinese New year is centuries old, and gains significance as a result of many mythological beliefs and traditions. The Chinese New Year is a time to honour deities as well as ancestors.
How did Chinese New Year come to be celebrated? According to an ancient legend, the story has it that, people were once tormented by a beast called a Nian – a ferocious creature with an extremely large mouth, capable of swallowing several people in a single bite, especially children. The villagers protected themselves by keeping food at their doorstep at the beginning of every year. It was believed that once Nian ate the food, it wouldn’t attack anyone. One day, a villager tried to revenge Nian, a god visited the old man and asked him to put red paper on his house and to place firecrackers. Relief from the Nian came only when the old man successfully tricked the beast into disappearing. The people then understood that Nian was afraid of red colour, so they would not only hang red lanterns, red spring rolls, but also wear red clothes during the New Year. In reality, New Year’s festivities probably evolved from a desire to celebrate the end of winter and the fertility and rebirth that come with the spring, much like the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. Today, New Years is about family reunions and wishing everyone good fortune in the coming year.
The Spring Festival is China’s biggest and longest traditional holiday, and has gained influence around China’s neighbouring cities. The holiday duration varies in cities and countries. It is celebrated in Vietnam (where New Year’s Day is called “Tet”) , Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, and the Philippines. However, in Japan, Chinese New Year goes unnoticed, except for a few small celebrations by the Chinese who live there. Lisa Heupel, an expert on Japanese Culture, came up with a possible reason – apparently the Japanese followed the lunar calendar until the middle of the nineteenth century. However, after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, they adopted the Gregorian calendar, since that time, the Japanese New Year is celebrated on January 1st.
Are you wondering why we have the largest mass movement of people at that time? In China, the evening preceding the Chinese New Year, called chúxí is very important, if not the most important. It’s an occasion for annual family reunion dinner, which is believed to be the most important meal for the year. The reunion dinner named “Nian Ye Fan”is usually in or near the most senior member of the family. The New Year dinner’s eve dinner traditionally includes dishes of meat (pork, chicken) and fish (鱼yú). In most areas the fish is included, but not eaten completely (the remnant is left overnight) this is a demonstration of the Chinese phrase “may there be surpluses every year” (simplified Chinese: 年年有余; pinyin: niánnián yǒu yú) sounds the same as “let there be fish every year. Also, eight individual dishes are served to reflect the belief of good fortune associated with the number. If in the previous year a death was experienced in the family, seven dishes are served.
Every household keep their house and environment clean, in order to sweep away any ill-luck, and pave way for good luck, good success and prosperity. The windows and doors are decorated with the Chinese favourite colour- red（red is considered a lucky color in China） colour paper-cuts designs, banners and couplets, with messages of “good fortune” or “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity” such as zhù nǐ yīqiè shùnlì祝你一切顺利，gōngxǐ fācái-恭喜发财, niánnián yǒuyú-年年有余。From the Chinese New year eve, down till 12am of the New Year itself, you would experience the most beautiful fireworks of every kind, sound, lights etc, the tradition belief is that, it sends away the evil Monster, another belief . it’s such a beautiful time.
Other activities include giving or receiving of hóngbāo (money placed in red paper envelopes, given from the older generation to the younger generation, and must never be opened in front of the giver), and a lion dance. The lion symbolizes, courage, strength and authority, Chinese belief loud spirt can frighten away ghost, evil spirit and the Nian. Today the lion dance is done to usher in a new and prosperous year.
The first day is welcoming of the deities, it officially begins at midnight, with the lighted fireworks, burning of bamboo stick possible to chase off the evil spirits as encapsulated by nian (Chinese: 年year). Most people especially Buddhists, abstain from eating meat on the first day with the belief that this will ensure longevity for them. While some consider lighting fires and using knives to be bad luck on New Year’s Day, they prepare all food days before, others consider it a bad luck to use broom on that day.
For Buddhists, the first day is also the birthday of Maitreya Bodhisattva (better known as the more familiar Budai Luohan), the Buddha-to-be. There is a lion dance display as a ritual to usher in the Chinese New year, and evict bad spirits from the premise. These days the lion dance is viewed mostly in the villages, and less
in the cities.
in the cities.
Incense is burned at the graves of ancestors as part of the offering and prayer ritual. This is known as “beginning of the year” (开年kāinián), when married daughters visit their birth parents, relatives and close friends. (Traditionally, married daughters do not have the opportunity to visit their birth families frequently). Some believe that the second day is also the birthday of all dogs and remember them with special treats.
The third day is known as “red mouth” (Chinese: 赤口; pinyin: Chìkǒu). Chikou is also called “Chigou’s Day” (Chinese: 赤狗日; pinyin: Chìgǒurì). Chigou, literally “red dog”, is an epithet of “the God of Blazing Wrath” (Chinese: 熛怒之神; pinyin: Biāo nù zhī shén). Rural villagers continue the tradition of burning paper offerings over trash fires. It is considered an unlucky day to have guests or go visiting. Hakka villagers in rural Hong Kong in the 1960s called it the Day of the Poor Devil and believed everyone should stay at home. On this day it is only considered favourable to visit the temple of the God of Wealth and have one’s future told.
For those communities that have a long holiday (15days), celebrate and welcome the gods on this day, while business returns to normal in other cities with short holiday (3days).
This day is the god of Wealth’s birthday. Chinese people shoot firecrackers to get Guan Yu’s attention, seeking his favour and goodness. People in the northern China, eat jiaozi, or dumplings, on the morning of this day. In Taiwan, businesses traditionally re-open on the next day (the sixth day), accompanied by firecrackers.
The seventh day, traditionally known as Renri (the common person’s birthday), is the day when everyone grows one year older. In some overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Singapore, it is also the day when tossed raw fish salad, yusheng, is eaten for continued wealth and prosperity. Most Buddhists, celebrate the birth of Sakra, lord of the devas in Buddhist cosmology who is analogous to the Jade Emperor, on this day they also avoid eating meat.
A family dinner is held to celebrate the eve of the birth of the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven. Some People return to work by the eighth day, with the store owners/boss hosting the workers to a sumptuous lunch/dinner, thanking and appreciating their works. Approaching 12 midnight on this day, Hokkien people perform the “Jade Emperor ritual” (Hokkien: 拜天公 Pài Thiⁿ-kong) during which incense is burnt and food offerings made to the Jade Emperor and also to Zao Jun, the Kitchen god who reports on each family to the Jade Emperor.
Some people will hold a ritual prayer after midnight on the eighth day. In Malaysia, especially, people light fireworks, often more than on the first day. This practice of Bai Ti Gong can also be seen in Singapore.
The ninth day is traditionally the birthday of the Jade Emperor. This day, is called Ti Kong Dan (Hokkien: 天公诞), is especially important to Hokkiens, even more important than the first day of the Chinese New Year. It is a day for Chinese to offer prayers to the Jade Emperor of Heaven in the Daoist Pantheon.
On the midnight of the eighth day of the New Year, Hokkiens will offer thanks to the Emperor of Heaven. A prominent requisite offering is sugarcane. The story holds that the Hokkien were spared from a massacre by Japanese pirates by hiding in a sugarcane plantation during the eighth and ninth days of the Chinese New Year, coinciding with the Jade Emperor’s birthday. Since “sugarcane” (Hokkien: 甘蔗 kam-chià) is a near homonym to “thank you” (Hokkien: 感谢 kám-siā) in the Hokkien dialect, Hokkiens offer sugarcane on the eve of his birthday, symbolic of their gratitude.
In the morning of this birthday (traditionally anytime from midnight to 7am), Taiwanese households set up an altar table with 3 layers: one top (containing offertories of six vegetables (Chinese: 六斋; pinyin: liù zhāi), noodles, fruits, cakes, tangyuan, vegetable bowls, and unripe betel, all decorated with paper lanterns) and two lower levels (containing the five sacrifices and wines) to honor the deities below the Jade Emperor. The household then kneels three times and kowtows nine times to pay obeisance and wish him a long life.
Incense, tea, fruit, vegetarian food or roast pig, and gold paper are served as a customary protocol for paying respect to an honored person.
The Jade Emperor’s party is celebrated on this day.
On the 13th day people eat pure vegetarian food – in belief that it will clean out their stomachs – due to consuming too much food over the preceding two weeks.
This day is dedicated to the General Guan Yu, also known as the Chinese God of War. Guan Yu was born in the Han dynasty and is considered the greatest general in Chinese history. He represents loyalty, strength, truth, and justice. According to history, he was tricked by the enemy and was beheaded.
Almost every organization and business in China will pray to Guan Yu on this day. Before his life ended, Guan Yu had won over one hundred battles and that is a goal that all businesses in China want to accomplish. In a way, people look at him as the God of Wealth or the God of Success.
The fifteenth day of the new year is celebrated as “Yuanxiao Festival” (simplified Chinese: 元宵节; pinyin: Yuán xiāo jié), also known as the Lantern Festival. The main meal on this day is the Rice dumplings tangyuan (simplified Chinese: 汤圆; pinyin: tang yuán), a sweet glutinous rice ball brewed in a soup. Candles are lit outside houses as a way to guide wayward spirits home. This day is celebrated as the Lantern Festival, and families walk the street carrying lighted lanterns.
In China, Malaysia and Singapore, this day is celebrated by individuals seeking for a romantic partner, akin to Valentine’s Day. Normally, single women would write their contact number on mandarin oranges and throw it in a river or a lake while single men would collect them and eat the oranges. The taste is an indication of their possible love: sweet represents a good fate while sour represents a bad fate.
This day often marks the end of the Chinese New Year festivities. Happy Chinese New Year!