Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays and is also called the Lunar New Year. Traditionally, the festival begins on the first day of the first month in the Chinese calendar and ends with the Lantern Festival, which is held on the 15th day of that month. This year, Chinese New Year falls on January 23. This year is going to be celebrated as the year of the 'Dragon'.
On this day, families gather for their annual reunion dinner, known as 'chu xi' which means 'Year-pass Eve'. Gifts are exchanged, symbolic food is eaten and festive decorations are displayed. All these focus on bringing in good luck for the New Year and celebrating the coming of spring. Chinese New Year is the longest and most important festival in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The origins of the celebrations can be traced back to thousands of years and are associated with several myths and traditions. According to legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight of Nien, a mythical beast. The Chinese believe this beast would come on the first day of the New Year to devour livestock, crops and even people, especially children.
To keep Nien away, red-paper couplets were pasted on doors, torches were lit and firecrackers were set off throughout the night. It was believed that Nien was scared of the colour red, the light of fire and loud noises. Early the next morning, as feelings of triumph and renewal filled the air at successfully keeping Nien away for another year, the most popular greeting heard was 'kung-his' or 'congratulations'.
This tradition continues and all the traditions listed above are followed to date. Additionally, Chinese people put food in front of their doors too. It is believed that once Nien eats the food they’ve made, he won’t attack people any more.
Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations such as Mainland China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam. In countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States, although Chinese New Year is not an official holiday, many ethnic Chinese hold large celebrations. Australia Post, Canada Post and the US Postal Service have even issued Chinese New Year themed stamps.
HOW IS CHINESE NEW YEAR CELEBRATED?
Within China, regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese New Year vary widely. People buy presents, decorations, food and clothing. Families clean their houses to sweep away any ill fortune and to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors are decorated with red-coloured paper-cutouts and couplets with popular themes of happiness, wealth and longevity. On the eve of Chinese New Year, a huge supper is cooked.
This supper includes items such as pork, duck, chicken and sweet delicacies. The family ends the night by bursting firecrackers. Early the next morning, children greet their parents by wishing them 'Guo Nian Hao' meaning 'a healthy and Happy New Year' and receive money in red paper envelopes.
CHINESE NEW YEAR SYMBOLS
Flowers: Flowers are an important part of Chinese New Year decorations. The two flowers most associated with the New Year are the plum blossom and the water narcissus. The plum blossom stands for courage and hope and the water narcissus signifies good luck and fortune.
Lai-See Envelopes: Also called Hong-Bao, these envelopes are given to children and young adults with money in them as New Year gifts.
Lucky Character: The single word 'FOOK', or 'fortune' is often displayed in many homes and stores. This word is usually written by brush on a diamond-shaped piece of red paper.
Spring Couplets: These Chinese New Year symbols are very old and hold traditional significance. Spring couplets are traditionally written with black ink on red paper. They are hung in storefronts in the month before Chinese New Year and often stay up for two months. They express best wishes and fortune for the coming year.
Tangerines, Oranges and Pomelos: Tangerines and oranges are frequently displayed in homes and stores. Tangerines are symbolic of good luck and oranges are symbolic of wealth.
Tray of Togetherness: Many families keep a tray full of dried fruits, sweets and candies to welcome guests and relatives who drop by. This tray is called a 'chuen-hop' or 'tray of togetherness'.