Ask one of your Chinese friends, "when is Chinese New Year "? Do not be surprised
if the answer is, "I don't know".
What makes it complicated is that the Chinese New Year is based on the Chinese lunar
calendar. In this calendar, a new moon is the beginning of a month and the middle
of the month is marked by a full moon. The simple answer is that Chinese New Year
is the first day and the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar. When you try
to synchronize it to the western calendar, it falls somewhere towards the middle
of January or the middle of February. It is differs from year to year.
Chinese New Year Celebration originated in China four thousand years ago during the
Han Dynasty. As an agricultural nation, Chinese farmers thought that spring was
the beginning of a new year. They cleared their land, cleaned their houses and prayed
for a new beginning and an abundant harvest.
According to legend, a monster called Nian appeared the night before the New Year
to prey on humans. To save the humans, a god in the form of an old man dressed in
a red outfit scared the monster away with the loud crackling sound of burning bamboo.
The Chinese captured the essence of this legend by painting their doors red and
set off fire crackers during the Chinese New Year celebration to replicate the scaring
away of Nian, the monster.
In modern times, Chinese New Year celebration is as intensive as the Christmas holiday
season in the western world. The Chinese follow a tradition of preparing for the
Chinese New Year with gift giving and family reunions as key elements of the holiday.
The Chinese New Year celebration lasts fifteen days.
The Chinese wish each other Happy New Year by saying, Gung Hay Fat Choi. Literally
it means, “wishing you happiness and good fortune”. Once the greetings are conveyed,
there are numerous rituals that the Chinese go through during the Chinese New Year
House cleaning is a significant ritual where everyone in the family contributes to
this task. It is believed that dirt must be gotten rid of to make room for the good
fortunes to come. Once the house is cleaned, it is then decorated with lucky red
Kumquat trees are also desirable to have in the house. They flower like tiny tangerines.
Branches from flowering trees including plum and peach are used to decorate the
house. All of these things are believed to bring long life.
Shopping for new clothes especially red clothes is an event all by itself. New clothes
bring in the new year.
Getting rid of your debts before the new year. Settle any arguments with friends
Visit family members and handed out small red pouches called hangbao to children.
Hangbao includes money which is supposed to bring wealth and good luck in the new
Lion dances where a team of dancers dress up in a lion outfit to do battle with another
team of lion or monkey dancers.
No bathing on New Year’s day. It is believed that if you wash on that day, all the
good spirits will be washed away. So the Chinese wash the night before on New Year’s
No meat eating on New Year’s day. A vegetarian meal is served on this day to give
thanks and honor those animals which supply food throughout the year.
It is on the second day after New Year’s that the Chinese celebrate with a huge feast.
Some of the traditional food items served include: black moss with dried oysters,
braised pork with lotus root and whole fried chicken.
The Dragon parade has the same excitement as the Christmas parade or Thanksgiving
parade in the west. The huge dragon is surrounded by the beat of drums and the crackling
of fire crackers as the Chinese celebrate the highlight of the season.
The rituals of the Chinese New Year celebration take place not only in China but
also in many metropolitan centers around the world with a concentration of Chinese
population. Although some of these rituals seem strange at times, understanding
the their background and history is vital to getting acquainted with Chinese tradition.