恭喜发财 (Gōngxǐ fācái) and welcome to the year of the Ox
Today, we celebrate Chinese New Year, the festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar. It is the most important holiday in China and to Chinese people all over the world.
Chinese New Year is also known as chunjie (春节), or the Spring Festival, because the holiday marks the end of the coldest days and the beginning of spring and all that it brings. You can also call it the Lunar New Year, because the Spring Festival goes according to the lunar calendar.
The 15-day celebration is a time for new beginnings, and family gathering with three overarching themes – fortune, happiness, and health. So what are some of the traditions and superstitions for celebrating Chinese New Year?
Read on to find out more.
The red pockets
Within this Chinese tradition red envelopes or pockets called 红包 (hóng bāo) are given to children by elders in the hope of good fortune for the coming year. These can also be gifted from children to elders and some traditions believe that married couples give these as a sign of hope to their unmarried friends.
According to legend, there was a mythical creature called Nian (年) who would come at night and devour entire villages. Children were given coins to use as a bribe to the monster to save their village. There are many other stories on how this tradition came about but this is the most popular.
The Lion Dance
The Lion Dance is a very common and exciting part of Chinese New Year celebrations, representing Nian (mentioned above) and is said to bring luck to those around. It is performed by two dancers, one as the head and one as the tail, dancing to the sounds of a gong, drums and cymbals.
Commonly the lion has a mirror on its head so bad spirits would be scared away by their own reflections. The lion then roams the streets looking for green leafy vegetables such as lettuce and a red envelope. They take this and spread the leaves around the streets to symbolise the spreading of good luck and the start of the new year.
No showering or cleaning your house
Another famous tradition for Chinese New Year is that you cannot shower on New Years Day and you also cannot take out trash or sweep your house before the 5th day of the celebrations. This is said to be so you do not sweep away the good luck and wealth that has been brought to you. Luckily, there is a day especially dedicated to cleaning before Spring Festival!
You must return home for dessert
During the current times, returning home is not always possible but you can be sure to eat some of your favourite traditional desserts on New Year’s Day. Nian Gao, also known as “rice cake” is the most common dessert on this day, made out of sticky rice or yellow rice. This dessert is said to make you more successful and ‘higher’ in the coming year.
As the years have gone on there is now many different ways to make Nian Gao but the tradition will always remain. Fa Gao is another popular choice but this is made from fermented rice and then steamed, it is said that the fluffier the cakes are and the more splits it has the more luck it brings.
Yuan Xiao Jie – Festival of Lanterns
The fifteenth day of the New Year is the Lantern Festival, which markes the traditional end of Spring Festival celebrations. Lanterns are lit in the streets, or released into the sky or floating onto sea, rivers or lakes. They are often adorned with oems or riddles, which are read out for entertainment.
There are also large paper lanterns on wheels in the shape of either a rabbit or the animal of the year (this years being the Ox). The rabbit is shown to represent the female goddess Chang E who jumped onto the moon, as she did not want to go alone she took her rabbit with her. Some say they can see her and her rabbit on this day sat on the moon if your heart is pure enough.
Spring Festival is an excellent time to learn about one of the world’s major cultural traditions. Chinese New Year is not only celebrated in China, but also in several other East Asian countries as well as Chinatowns in Western countries.
新年好 (Xīnnián hǎo)