Every year, an estimated 1.4 billion people celebrate Chinese New Year throughout the world, partaking in the vibrant and unique rituals and customs that so characterises this festival. Culturally significant with over 3,800 years of history, the celebration is steeped in symbolism and meaning – ever wondered why red is so dominant in Chinese New Year, or why the date moves each year?
Find out some of the more important meaning behind these customs below:
1. The Date
Known also as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year falls on the 23rd day of the 12th month of the lunar calendar somewhere after the Beginning of Spring, welcoming what is considered a new year – and warmer, pleasant weather. The Chinese calendar follows a lunisolar cycle that tracks both the sun’s and moon’s path, and while the exact dates vary from year to year, the festival usually falls between 21 January to 20 February on the Gregorian or ‘Western’ calendar.
In 2018, the first day of Chinese New Year falls on the 16th of February on a Friday.
2. The Zodiac
2018 welcomes the Year of the Dog, the second to last zodiac animal of the cyclical 12-year calendar. The zodiac of your birth year determines your character, annual fortune, as well as compatibility with other signs.
Legend has it that the Jade Emperor – the head ruler of Heaven and Earth – once decreed a race to select an animal to represent the zodiac for each year. The first 12 to arrive will be given the honour. Ultimately, the race was won by the rat, followed by the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The animals’ shenanigans throughout the race were said to determine the intrinsic characteristics of those born under their sign – like the tricksy rat and the hardworking horse.
But beware if you feel special that it’s your zodiac year; according to custom, you’re generally in for bad luck.
3. Red and Noisemakers
Nothing is more characteristic of the Chinese New Year than the clothing, banners, lanterns and decorations in vibrant reds. The mood too, is often exuberant, raucous and full of laughter, loud toasts and noisemakers.
The Chinese’s noisy and enthusiasm their reverence of red as a colour of luck and fortune intertwines with the mythological origins of the Lunar New Year. According to legend, the Chinese people were once terrorised by the monster, Nian. The people, helpless against the beast, would go into hiding with the hopes of escaping its terror. One year, an old man came into the village as a guest, and upon learning of their plight, decided to stay the night. He hung up rich red banners and set off crackling firecrackers, which scared off Nain before it could start its destructive rampage. From then on, the people would wear red and light firecrackers to drive away the monster, which never returned hence.
4. 15 days
The festival actually lasts for 15 days. Each day has its own significance and corresponding custom, rituals and taboos. For example, it’s considered bad luck to sweep or clean on the First day. So families will do a deep spring clean of the entire household before to sweep away the old and bad luck of the previous year to make way for good fortune in the new one.
5. Reunion Dinners
Image Source: Wikipedia
The Yee Sang, a traditional and iconic raw fish salad that symbolises prosperity and abundance. A staple of the reunion dinner, each household partakes with the toss; the higher the toss, the more prosperity they can have for the coming year.
Families gather for a massive and festive reunion dinner on the Eve of the Lunar New Year. The meal is extravagant and feature special dishes, each with its own symbolism and meaning as an offering to the coming New Year. Fish, for example, is a staple as it symbolises prosperity, mandarin oranges for fortune and wealth, and glutinous rice cakes for increasing standing, year in and year out.
On the first and second days of the New Year, the Chinese houses are open to family, friends and visiting guests. Greetings of good luck, wishes of fortunes and happiness and much joy and festivities are shared from household to household. Tea, festive cookies and symbolic yet practical gifts are exchanged. Of course, the reception areas would be sparkling clean and luxuriously bedecked – and sure to impress.
Red packets with money in them are often given to youngsters and unmarried relatives by their married counterparts as wishes of good fortune.
The Chinese welcome the New Years with hopes of new fortunes, new beginnings and a brighter future; settling old debts, sweeping away old luck and preparing the house and home to be as brand new and as comfortable as possible! So why not get a fresh start and try out one of the many professional home improvement services on Gawin.ph?
written by Louisa Lee