What is Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year (also called the Lunar New Year and the Spring Festival) is the most important holiday in China and for Chinese people around the world.
Chinese New Year is celebrated in the Far East and in Chinatowns around the world on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, which is usually the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice.
Traditionally, houses are cleaned and decorated in the days before Chinese New Year. Red envelopes (hong bao) are passed out on Chinese New Year's Eve. The following day, Chinese New Year is celebrated with firecrackers, lanterns, torches, and bonfires to chase away the kuei (evil spirits), who are believed to be dispersed by light and noise. Dragon dances and lion dances take place in streets and public places throughout the first few days of the Chinese New Year.
Traditional Chinese New Year greetings include:
- Kung Hei Fat Choi (Mandarin: gong xi fa cai) - "congratulations and be prosperous"
- xīn nián kuài lè - "Happy New Year"
A red envelope or hong bao (Lai Si in Cantonese) is a monetary gift given in Chinese society. The name comes from the red envelope in which the money is contained.
Red packets are often presented on social occasions such as a wedding reception or Chinese New Year (in which context it is also known as ya-sui qian). They are also the standard form in which cash for political bribes is given. The red of the envelope symbolizes good luck and the amount of money in the packet is often some lucky number (such as a number containing many eights, which sounds similar to the Chinese term for "prosperity").
During Chinese New Year, a hong bao is typically given by the grown-ups and seniors (usually the married) to the visiting children and juniors. It is bestowed on the days of New Year, where the recipient says something auspicious on taking the red packet.
In Chinese society, the monetary value of the gift is very important and gifts of red packets are socially acceptable precisely because they allow the receiver to accurately measure the strength of a social relationship.
A similar custom also exists in Vietnam (lì sì) as well as Japan, where a monetary gift, called otoshidama, is given to children by their relatives during the New Year period.
Foods of Chinese New Year
New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are a family affair. The New Year's Eve dinner is very large and traditionally includes chicken. However, the New Year's Day dinner is typically vegetarian.
- nian gao - Although it is literally translated as "Year Cake", nian gao is more like a sweet, stretchy, sticky pudding. It is made with glutinous rice powder, brown sugar and flavored with rose water or red beans. The batter is steamed until it solidifies and served in thick slices. The Chinese word "nian" or "to stick" is similar in sound to "year", and the word "gao" or "cake" sounds similar to "high/tall." As such, eating "nian gao" is has the symbolism of raising oneself in each coming year, or "nian nian gao sheng."
- fa gao - Literally translated as "Prosperity Cake", fa gao is made with wheat flour, water, sugar and leavened with either yeast or baking powder. Fa gao batter is steamed until it rises and splits open at the top. The sound "fa" means either "to raise/generate" or "be prosperous", hence its well intending secondary meaning.
- jiaozi - dumplings
- yu sheng - a salad of raw fish (especially popular in Singapore and Malaysia)
- mandarin oranges - symbol of wealth and good fortune
- Red Jujubes (also called "Chinese Dates") – symbol of prosperity
- whole steamed fish - symbol of long life and good fortune
- uncut noodles - symbol of longevity
- baked goods with seeds - symbol of fertility
The New Year season lasts 15 days. The first three days are the most important and most often celebrated with visits to friends and family and greetings of good luck. The seventh day is everyone's birthday, the day when everyone grows one year older. The celebrations end on the important and colorful Lantern Festival on the evening of the 15th day of the new moon.
The Dragon Dance
The dragon dance is a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture. Along with the lion dance, it is most often seen in festive celebrations.
In the dance, a team of dancers carry an image of the Chinese dragon on poles. The lead dancers lift, dip, thrust, and sweep the head, which may contain animated features controlled by a dancer and is sometimes rigged to belch smoke from pyrotechnic devices.
The dance team mimics the supposed movements of the river spirit in a sinuous, undulating manner. The dragon's fabric and bamboo body can be as long as tens of meters.
The dragon dance is a highlight of Chinese New Year celebrations held in China and in Chinatowns around the world. The costumes used in these celebrations are usually made in specialty craft shops in rural China and imported at considerable expense using funds raised through subscriptions and pledges by members of local cultural and business societies.
The Lantern Festival is held on the 15th of the first month of the Chinese calendar. It is also known as the Little New Year since it marks the end of the series of celebrations starting from the Chinese New Year.
The Lantern Festival is a Buddhist holiday that is often compared to Halloween. As children go trick-or-treating at night on Halloween, during the Lantern Festival, children go out at night carrying bright lanterns. In ancient times, the lanterns were fairly simple, for only the emperor and noblemen had large ornate ones; in modern times, lanterns have been embellished with many complex designs. For example, lanterns are now often made in shapes of animals.
Traditionally, the date once served as a day for love and matchmaking. It was one of the few nights without a strict curfew. Young people were chaperoned in the streets in hopes of finding love. Matchmakers acted busily in hopes of pairing couples. Often, those with brightest lanterns were deemed good luck and hope.
Those who do not carry lanterns often enjoy watching informal lantern parades. Other popular activities at this festival include eating tang yuan, a sweet rice dumpling soup, and guessing lantern riddles, which are often messages of love.
Chinese New Year Dates
The date is determined by the Chinese calendar, a lunisolar calendar. The same calendar is used in countries that have adopted the Confucian and Buddhism tradition and in many cultures influenced by the Chinese, notably the Koreans, the Tibetans, the Vietnamese and the pagan Bulgars. Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The lunar cycle is about 29.5 days. According to the solar calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year.
In 1953, the first day of the lunar New Year coincided with a solar eclipse. According to Confucius (6th–5th centuries BCE) and Mencius (4th–3rd centuries BCE), this is a sign of a coming disaster and a lack of favor by Shang-ti.
Some Chinese New Year dates (in the Gregorian calendar) are listed below (with pinyin romanization for the animals):
- "Chinese New Year." Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_New_Year>
External Links on Chinese New Year
- Chinese New Year 2005: Year of the Rooster - BBC London
- Calendar: Chinese New Year - PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, February 11, 2000.
- Chinese New Year - ChinaPage