Happy Chinese New Year
January 23rd is Chinese New Year! This is a very special holiday for me because it’s a really neat part of my Asian heritage. It’s also kind of an extension of the winter holidays but with an Asian flare! I would sum up the holiday in three words: food, booze and MONEY! Okay, okay it’s not just about the money, I actually do love all the traditions and meanings that go along with Chinese New Year.
A little history…
*There’s quite a bit. It’s culture over 5,000 years old. I’ve grown up with it and I’m still fuzzy on the details, but I’ll do my best to sum it up.
– Chinese New Year is also known as “Lunar New Year” (農曆新年) because the Chinese calendar is lunisolar. It’s also called the “Spring Festival” (春節- Chūn Jié) as it signals the start of the spring season.
– In the western calendar, Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, usually between mid-January to mid-February).
Fun Fact: In 2010, Chinese New Year fell on Valentine’s Day and the day of the NBA All-Star Game!
– The festivities last for 15 days with various activities each day, depending on the country and traditions.
– Why is there so much RED? In Chinese culture, red symbolizes joy, luck, truth, virtue and prosperity. (Ex: In traditional Chinese weddings, brides and grooms wear red, not white.)
-According to my childhood stories, the beginning of Chinese New Year started many, many eons ago with the fight against a mythical beast called “Nian” (年). This word also means “year” in Chinese.
Nian would come on the first day of new year to eat livestock, crops and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, people would make lots of food and put it out at the beginning of every year so Nian would have something to eat and not attack the villages. Nian is also scared away by the color red (why red is the official color of Chinese New Year). People also used firecrackers to scare the best (why firecrackers are used in celebration of the new year). From then on, Nian never attacked again.
– This is the Year of the Dragon (龍) – Each year coincides with one of the 12 Chinese zodiacs. If you were born in the year of the dragon, congrats! It’s your lucky year!
Dragons are Magnanimous, stately, vigorous, strong, self-assured, proud, noble, direct, dignified, eccentric, intellectual, fiery, passionate, decisive, pioneering, artistic, generous, loyal. But can be tactless, arrogant, imperious, tyrannical, demanding, intolerant, dogmatic, violent, impetuous, brash.
*This holiday is a full 15 days of activities so I’ll give you the highlights. In Asian countries, school and most business are closed for extended amounts of time.
Leading up to the New Year celebration:
1. Clean your home, sweeping away all the bad luck and things from the previous year to welcome in the good fortunes.
2. Buy new clothes, shoes and even get a haircut to symbolize a fresh start.
3. Hang “Chun Lian” (see below).
New Year’s Eve: (除夕- Chú Xī) is when families gather for an annual reunion dinner. Traditionally, firecrackers were lit to scare away evil spirits with the house doors sealed, not to be reopened until the new morning in a ritual called “opening the door of fortune.”
Red Envelopes/Packets (红包) – or Ya Sui Qian (壓歲錢) which means “the money used to suppress evil spirits” – Packets that contain cash, usually given by elders or married couples to children or those unmarried. You keep them under your pillow for good luck.
*So the key to getting more money on Chinese New Year: Don’t get married for as long as possible. Adopt some kids. And the more relatives you have, the better – lots of aunts and uncles, married cousins, family friends count too and if you have multiple sets of grandparents (just kidding).
Day 1: Welcoming of the deities, lion dances, etc. Also, I’ve always been told not to wash my hair on New Year’s Day because you don’t want to wash away all good luck and fortune.
Watch a lion dance HERE.
Day 2: Traditionally, this was the day married daughters visited their maiden families.
Day 3-14: Various celebrations commence including celebrations of deities, paying tribute to your ancestors, going to temples, family gatherings and other customs and traditions.
Day 15: Chinese New Year ends with the Lantern Festival (元宵節 – Yuanxiao Jié). You light paper lanterns that you can hang or carry around and you solve riddles in lanterns.
The Food: Everything you eat for has special meaning.
– Dumplings: They’re shaped like money back in the old days, symbolizing a year of wealth.
– Fish: In Chinese, the pronunciation of fish (yu) is the same as “surplus”, meaning you will have plenty in the new year.
– Noodles: They must be uncut, because they represent a long life.
– Nian Gao (年糕): these words sound the same as the meaning “year high” (年高), meaning you’ll have a good year ahead.
– Tang Yuan (湯圓): sweet glutinous rice ball brewed in soup eaten on the last day in celebration of the Lantern Festival.
So basically Chinese New Year is about having food, new things, longevity, luck and wealth! Sounds good to me! Actually, it’s a really fun holiday about family, appreciation and tradition.
So Happy Chinese New Year or in Chinese, 新年快樂, “Xin Nian Kuai LE”!