Chinese New Year - January 31, 2014
Chinese New Years, or the Spring Festival is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. It consists of a period of celebrations, starting on New Year's Day, celebrated on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar. This is the day of the second new moon after the December solstice (winter solstice), unless there is an Intercalation (intercalary eleventh or twelfth month) in the lead-up to the New Year. In such a case, the New Year falls on the day of the third new moon after the solstice. (The next time this occurs is in 2033.) The Chinese New Year period ends with the Lantern Festival, on the fifteenth day of the festival.
According to legend, the beginning of the year began with month 1 during the Xia Dynasty, month 12 during the Shang Dynasty, and month 11 during the Zhou Dynasty, but intercalary months were added after month 12 during both the Shang Dynasty (according to surviving oracle bones) and the Zhou Dynasty (according to Sima Qian). The first Emperor of China Qin Shi Huang changed the beginning of the year to month 10 in 221 BC. Whether the New Year was ''celebrated'' at the beginning of these months or at the beginning of month 1 or both is unknown. In 104 BC, Emperor Wu of Han (Emperor Wu) established month 1 as the beginning of the year where it remains.
According to legend, in ancient China, Nian ("Nyan"), a man-eating predatory beast from the mountains, could infiltrate houses silently. The Chinese were always very scared of this monster. The Chinese later learned that Nian was sensitive to loud noises and the color red, and so they scared it away with explosions, fireworks and the liberal use of the color red. So "GuoNian" actually means "Passover the Nian". These customs led to the first New Year celebrations.
"ChuXi" in Standard Mandarin (Mandarin Chinese). "Chu" means "get rid of" and "Xi" is the day of the legendary man-eating beast, Nian, that preys once a year on New Year Eve. When Nian arrived, people used firecrackers to scare him away. Once Nian ran away, people joined together to celebrate for another year of safe life.
Celebrated internationally in areas with large populations of Han Chinese (ethnic Chinese), Chinese New Year is considered to be a major holiday for the Chinese as well as ethnic groups such as the Mongolians, Koreans, the Hmong people, Miao (Chinese Hmong), the Vietnamese people, Tibetans, Nepalese and Bhutanese who were strongly influenced by Chinese culture in terms of Confucianism philosophical and religious worldview, language and culture in general. Chinese New Year is also the time when Chunyun, the largest human migration takes place when overseas Chinese all around the world return home on the eve of Chinese New Year to have reunion dinners with their families.
New Year dates
The dates of the Spring Festival from 1996 to 2019 (in the Gregorian calendar) are listed below with pinyin romanizations for the earthly branches associated with the animals, which are not their translations.
Rat (Zi): February 19, 1996; February 7, 2008
Ox (Chou): February 7, 1997; January 26, 2009
Tiger (Yin): January 28, 1998; February 14, 2010
Rabbit (Mao): February 16, 1999; February 3, 2011
Dragon (Chen): February 5, 2000; January 23, 2012
Snake (Si): January 24, 2001; February 10, 2013
Horse (Wu): February 12, 2002; January 31, 2014
Goat (Wei): February 1, 2003; February 19, 2015
Monkey (Shen): January 22, 2004; February 8, 2016
Rooster (You): February 9, 2005; January 28, 2017
Dog (Xu): January 29, 2006; February 16, 2018
Pig (Hai): February 18, 2007; February 5, 2019
Many non-Chinese people confuse their Chinese birth-year with their Gregorian birth-year. Because the Chinese New Year starts in late January to mid February, the Chinese year dates from January 1 until that day in the new Gregorian year remain unchanged from the previous Gregorian year. For example, the 1989 year of the snake began on February 6, 1989. The year 1990 is considered by some people to be the year of the horse. However, the 1989 year of the snake officially ended on January 26, 1990. This means that anyone born from January 1 to January 25, 1990 was actually born in the year of the snake rather than the year of the horse.
Many online Chinese Sign calculators do not account for the non-alignment of the two calendars, incorrectly using Gregorian-calendar years rather than official Chinese New Year dates.
See Chinese astrology for a list of Chinese New Year dates for every year from 1900 to 2020, covering one full sexagesimal cycle (1924–1983) and portions of two others.
Chinese New Year is observed as a public holiday in a number of countries and territories where a sizeable Chinese population resides. Since Chinese New Year falls on different dates on the Gregorian calendar every year on different days of the week, some of these governments opt to shift working days in order to accommodate a longer public holiday. Also like many other countries in the world, a statutory holiday is added on the following work day when the New Year falls on the weekend.
New Year season lasts for fifteen days. The first week is the most important and most often celebrated with visits to friends and family as well as greetings of good luck. The celebrations end on the important and colourful Lantern Festival on the evening of the 15th day of the month. However, Chinese believe that on the third day of the Chinese New Year it is not appropriate to visit family and friends, and call the day "chec hao", meaning "easy to get into arguments".
The date of the Chinese New Year 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 China|Chinese, notably the Koreans, the Japanese, the Tibetan, the Vietnamese and the pagan Bulgars. Chinese New Year starts on the first day of the new year containing a new moon (some sources even include New Year's Eve) and ends on the Lantern Festival fourteen days later. This occurs around the time of the full moon as each lunation is about 29.53 days in duration. In the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, on a date between January 21 and February 20. In traditional Chinese Culture, Lichun is a solar term marking the start of spring, which usually falls on either February 4 or 5.
Days before the new year
On the days before the New Year celebration, Chinese families give their home a thorough cleaning. It is believed the cleaning sweeps away bad luck and makes their homes ready for good luck to arrive. All brooms and dust pans are put away on New Year's Eve so that good luck cannot be swept away. Some people give their homes, doors and windowpanes a new coat of red paint. Homes are decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets (short phrases) that speak of "happiness," "wealth," and "longevity."
A reunion dinner is held on New Year's Eve where members of the family, near and far, get together for celebration. The New Year's Eve dinner is very large and traditionally includes chicken. Fish is included, but not eaten up completely (and the remainder is stored overnight), as the Chinese phrase (nián nián you yú), which means "may there be surpluses every year", sounds the same as "may there be fish every year", since "yú" is also the pronunciation for ("leftover" or "surplus"). A type of black hair-like algae, pronounced "Fat choy" in Cantonese, is also featured in many dishes since its name sounds similar to "prosperity". Hakka will serve ''kiu nyuk'' and ''yong tau foo''. Because certain things and/or food sound alike to certain Chinese well-wishes, the belief is that having one will lead to the other.
Most Northerners serve dumplings as the main dish in this festive season, although most Chinese around the world would do the same because it is believed that dumplings (jiao zi) are wrapped in the semblance of Chinese gold nuggets used in ancient China. This gold nugget is called (jin yuán bao). However, mandarin oranges are the most popular and most abundant fruit during Chinese New Year amongst Chinese simply because of, ''inter alia'', how the name of the fruit is phonetically similar to gold -- jin ju or kam in Cantonese.
First day of the new year
The first day ("chu yi") is for the welcoming of the gods of the heavens and earth. Many people abstain from meat consumption on the first day because it is believed that this will ensure long and happy lives for them.
New Year's day is also celebrated within the family. Usually family members gather on the morning of New Year's Day. It is at this gathering that red envelopes are given by senior members of the family, usually married, to unmarried junior members of the family.
Red packets traditionally consisted of amounts which were considered multiples. Amounts like $2 or $20 were acceptable. Similarly "multiples of 2" such as $1.10 and $2.20 were also acceptable. However, this is not strictly adhered to. The gift was originally a token amount but these days it is not uncommon to receive large sums in affluent families. In some families this tradition has evolved into the practice to substituting money-like instruments (stocks, bonds, unit trust) in place of large sums of cash.
Red packets are also given to unmarried visitors but the sums are often smaller than the envelope given to family members or close friends. Employers may also give red envelopes to their employees on the first working day after the festival.
Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time where family members, in order of their seniority, will pay a visit to their oldest and most senior member of their family, usually their parents or grandparents, or even great grandparents. The venue of the aforementioned Reunion Dinner is usually, if not always, at the eldest and most respected family member's residence. This has been in practice for many centuries.
Some families will invite a Lion dance troupe to their home as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Lunar New Year as well as to force-evict bad spirits out of the premises. Chinese red firecrackers will also be on display where the deafening explosions of each firecracker is believed to scare evil spirits away.
Second day of the new year
It is the second day of Chinese New Year for sons-in-laws to visit their parents-in-law. Giving away red packets will still be ongoing from the first day and would gradually quiet down by the fifth day, depending on the size of the family as each juniors will only receive one packet from each senior member of the family.
It is always a tradition to wish guests and be wished by guests "Gong xi fa cai!" (Mandarin) or "Gong hei fatt choy" (Cantonese). Depending on the family's background, guests may be invited to join a ceremony of tea with the host.
Third day and fourth of the new year
The third day of Chinese New Year is not appropriate to visit any relative because it is known as "chec hao", meaning easy to get into argument. Theory suggests that the cause could be the fried food and visiting during the first two days of the New Year celebration.
Fifth day of the new year
In north China, people eat Jiaozi (dumplings) on the morning of ''Po Wu''. This is also the birthday of the Chinese god of wealth. In Taiwan, businesses traditionally re-open on this day, accompanied by exploding firecrackers.
Seventh day of the new year
The seventh day traditionally is known as the common man's birthday, the day when everyone grows one year older. It is also the day when tossed fish salad, yusheng, is eaten. People get together to toss the colorful salad and make wishes for continued wealth and prosperity. This is celebrated primarily among the Chinese in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Singapore. This is a tradition that is not commonly practiced by Chinese in other parts of the world. For many Chinese, this is a day to avoid meat, and to enjoy 'zai', a vegetarian meal.
Fifteenth day of the new year
The fifteenth and last day of the new year is the time when an old woman will greet you with a basket of celery. This occurrence is celebrated as Yuanxiao jie or otherwise known as Chap Goh Mei in Fujian dialect, marked by the eating of ''tangyuan'', a sweet rice ball dumpling soup. Depending on locality, the same day may also be celebrated as the Lantern Festival, or as the Chinese Valentine's Day.
Traditionally, Red envelopes are passed out during the Chinese New Year's celebrations, from married couples to unmarried people, especially children. The envelopes contain money, usually varying from a dollar to several hundred dollars. Chinese New Year is celebrated with firecrackers, dragon dances and lion dances. Typically the game of mahjong is played in some families. New clothing is also worn on the first day.
New Year Markets
Markets are set up near the New Year especially for vendors to sell New Year-related products. These usually open-air markets feature floral products, toys, clothing, for shoppers to buy gifts for new year visitations as well as decor for their homes. The practice of shopping for the perfect ume (plum tree) is not dissimilar to the Western tradition of buying a Christmas tree.
Firecrackers are either by themselves or strung in a long string. They are cased in red paper, as red symbolises good things. The loud popping noise created by the explosion is thought to scare away evil spirits.
In Singapore, firecrackers are banned due to safety reasons since 1972. In 2003, the Government of Singapore allowed firecrackers to be displayed during the festive season. However, they are still not commercially sold and is only allowed to be displayed at events for the Chinese New Year light up at Chinatown, Singapore at midnight on the day itself and other occasions which is displayed by the Singapore Tourism Board or other government organizations.
Malaysia also banned firecrackers for same reason.
Fireworks are banned in Hong Kong for safety reasons, but the government will put on a fireworks display in the Victoria Harbour on the second day of the Chinese New Year. Similar displays are also held in many other cities in and outside China.
Red clothing is worn throughout the Chinese New Year, as red will scare away evil spirits and bad fortune. Also, people typically wear new clothes from head to toe to symbolize starting anew in the new year.
Money Given to Children
On the night of Chuxi, or the night before the first day of new years, parents or grandparents usually put "end of year money" under children's pillows. The most common story of the origin of this tradition is below:
There once was a monster called Sui that would come on the night of Chuxi and touch the forehead of sleeping children. Once touched, normal children turned insane and smart children were then mentally retarded. To avoid this, parents usually stayed up the whole to watch out for Sui. One couple loved their bright son very much, and decided one year to keep the son awake by having him playing with coins wrapped in red paper. However, both the parents and the boy eventually fell asleep, with the paper wrapped coins fallen beside the boy's pillow. At night, Sui came in looking for the boy. The parents woke up, but it was too late for them to stop Sui. As Sui got close to the boy, a light flashed from the paper wrapped coins, scarying Sui away.
The next day, the story was known through out the village, and people believed that having coins wrapped in red paper would keep Sui away on Chuxi. Therefore it became a tradition to put money by the pillows of children on the night of Chuxi, and the money is then called Ya Sui Qian, or Sui Suppressing Money. And since Sui sounds similar to the word which means year, it is then called, for people believed this money would keep their children safe for the rest of the year.
Red banners with "Luck" written on them are hung around the house and on the fronts of doors. This sign is usually seen hung upside down, since the word "upside down" shares the same pronounciation as "arrive" in Chinese, therefore symbolizing the arrival of luck or happiness.
The following are popular floral decorations for the New Year and are available at the new year markets.
Chinese New Year lucky cake: red bean paste between two layers of longane flavoured rice paste.
Several foods are eaten to usher in wealth, happiness, and good fortune. Several of the foods pronounced in Chinese are homophones to words that also mean good things.
Superstitions during the New Year period
New Year Parade in Chinatown
In 1849, with the discovery of gold and the ensuing California Gold Rush, over 50,000 people had come to San Francisco to seek their fortune or just a better way of life. Among those were many Chinese, who had come to work in the gold mines and on the railroad. By the 1860s, the Chinese were eager to share their culture with those who were unfamiliar with it. They chose to showcase their culture by using a favorite American tradition - the Parade. Nothing like it had ever been done in their native China. They invited a variety of other groups from the city to participate, and they marched down what today are Grant Avenue and Kearny Street carrying colorful flags, banners, lanterns, and drums and firecrackers to drive away evil spirits.
The Chinese New Year is often accompanied by loud, enthusiastic greetings, loosely translated as ''auspicious words or phrases''. Some of the most common examples may include:
''Happy new year''
Cantonese: Sun nin fai lok. A more contemporary greeting reflective of western influences, it literally translates from the greeting "Happy new year" more common in the west. But in northern part of China, traditionally people say instead of , to make difference from the international new year. And can be used from the first day to the fifth day of Chinese new year.
''Congratulations and be prosperous''
Hong Kong: Hokkien Keong hee huat chye; Cantonese: Gung hei fat choi; Hakka: Kung hei fat choi, which loosely translates to "Congratulations and be prosperous". Often mistakenly assumed to be synonymous with "Happy new year", its usage dates back several centuries. While the first two words of this phrase had a much longer historical significance (legend has it that the congratulatory messages were traded for surviving the ravaging beast of ''Nian'', although in practical terms in may also involve surviving the harsh winter conditions), the last two words were added later as capitalism and consumerism ideas took greater significance in Chinese societies around the world. The saying is now commonly heard in English speaking communities for greetings during Chinese New Year in parts of the world where there is a sizable Chinese-speaking community, including the overseas Chinese, relatively recent immigrants from Greater China, and those who are transit migrants (particularly students).
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