Chinese New Year
New Year in China
The Chinese New Year may be considered both a national and international holiday, as it is celebrated all around the world in areas with large populations of ethnic Chinese. It is considered a major holiday for the Chinese and has had a strong influence on the New Year celebrations of many countries. First of all, these are its geographic neighbors, such as Korea, Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, Vietnam, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and others. Celebrated largely by overseas Chinese, it is still not part of the traditional culture of these countries. In Canada, although Chinese New Year is not an official holiday, many ethnic Chinese hold large celebrations during this period of the year. Today, Chinese New Year parades are annual traditions across North America in cities with significant Chinese populations. Among these are: San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Auckland, New Zealand and Vancouver, British Columbia.
What is the origin of this holiday? According to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nian or "Year" in Chinese. It would come and devour villagers, who then asked for the help of a great lion spirit. The lion spirit came and attacked Nian, and having wounded it, drove it away.
In the following year the lion was away, protecting the Emperor's palace, and the people were left defenseless. Then, using bamboo and cloth the people created a statue resembling the dragon. This was enough to scare away Nian, and later created the tradition of using lion spirit costumes as an important symbol of this celebration.
New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest. The Chinese New Year itself is celebrated on the first day of the First Moon of the lunar calendar. The corresponding date in the solar calendar varies from as early as January 21st to as late as February 19th.
On the days before the New Year celebration, Chinese families are busy tidying up their homes. They believe that cleaning sweeps away the bad luck of the preceding year and prepares their homes for receiving the good luck. Even brooms and dust pans are put away on the first day so that luck cannot be swept away. Some people dress their homes, doors and window-panes in new red clothes. Homes are often embellished with strips of paper, on which Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets are written.
Since there are many households where Buddhism or Taoism is prevalent, some specific actions are undertaken as well. Home altars and statues are thoroughly cleaned, and old decorations are replaced with new ones. A paper effigy of the Kitchen God, the recorder of family functions, is burned in order to report to the Jade Emperor of the family household's transgressions and good deeds.
As anywhere else in the world, the biggest event of any Chinese New Year's Eve is the dinner every family will have. A dish consisting of fish will appear on the dinner tables of Chinese families. But it is not the same in northern China, where people make dumplings (jiaozi) after dinner and have it around midnight. Dumplings symbolize wealth. In the South, it is customary to make a New Year cake (Niangao) after dinner and send pieces of it as gifts to relatives and friends in the first days of the New Year. Niangao literally means increasingly prosperous year in year out. After the dinner people meet at local temples, where some families go to pray for a prosperous new year.
Red color is liberally used in all decorations during the Chinese New Year's celebrations, as it is believed that red will scare away evil spirits and bad fortune. Clothing mainly featuring red colors is commonly worn during the Chinese New Year celebrations. There is a special well affirmed tradition, when red envelopes or red packets are given as gifts. Married couples or the elderly offer them to unmarried juniors, adults - to children.
Red envelopes always contain money, usually varying from a couple of dollars to several hundred. The amount of money should be of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals. Generally, nobody puts at four dollars in one envelop or packet, because the word four has the same pronunciation as the word death has, and it is considered bad luck.
Markets or village fairs are set up as the New Year is approaching. Usually in open-air, these markets feature New Year related products such as toys, clothing, flowers and fireworks. In some places, the practice of shopping for the perfect Plum tree is similar to the Western tradition of buying a Christmas tree.
Flowers are an important part of the New Year decorations. The two flowers most associated with the New Year are the plum blossom and water narcissus. Floral decorations for the New Year are available at New Year markets: peach blossom symbolizes luck, kumkuat and narcissus symbolizes prosperity, chrysanthemum symbolizes longevity, sunflower means having a good year and bamboo - a plant used for any time of year.
Bamboo stems filled with gunpowder that were burnt to create small explosions were once used in ancient China to drive away evil spirits. In modern times, this method has eventually evolved into the use of firecrackers during the festive season. The use of firecrackers, although a traditional part of celebration, has over the years witnessed many unfortunate outcomes. Hence, governments and authorities eventually enacted laws completely banning the use of firecrackers privately, primarily because of safety issues.
During these 15 days of the Chinese New Year one can see traditional or superstitious cultural beliefs that can be puzzling in the eyes of those who do not celebrate this occasion.
Chinese New Year is the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. The next Chinese new year 4707 begins on January 26, 2009.