Two minute read. Written by a grade 10 student.
Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is a lunar festival celebrated in China and some neighbouring countries (like Singapore and Hong Kong). It marks the start of the lunar New Year, which is when there is the start of a new moon. Hence, the first day of Chinese New Year begins on the new moon that appears between 21 January and 20 February. The festival was traditionally a time to honour the ancestors.
This year, the first day of the Chinese New Year will be on Saturday, 25 January, which will be the start of the Year of the Rat.
The interesting thing is that like, Lohri, which we told you about recently, this festival too marks the end of peak winter and is related to harvest as well. At this time people would pray to the harvest gods that their harvest would be good. Also, this is New Year not only for the Chinese, but also some non-Chinese Asian countries like Korea, which usually falls on the same day as the Chinese New Year; the Vietnamese New Year called Tết, and the Buddhist New Year festival (celebrated mainly in Tibet but also in India, Nepal and Bhutan) called Losar.
How did the festival originate?
The Spring Festival originated as a day to pray to Gods for a good harvesting season and to ward-off any bad luck. Most Chinese were dependent on agriculture, so a good harvest was important.
According to one myth, the festival started after a little boy fought and won from a monster named Nian by using firecrackers. The next day, people celebrated by bursting more firecrackers. That is why crackers are an important part of the celebrations.
How is Chinese New Year Celebrated?
The festival is all about luck and how to ward off evil and keep the good luck. People dress up in traditional clothes and wear a lot of red and also put up red decorations. This is because red is considered a lucky colour as it represents happiness, beauty, success, and good fortune.
Families travel across the globe to meet with one another and celebrate by exchanging gifts and eating food. The really great thing is that children also receive money in red envelopes – it’s called Lucky Money and is a symbol of transferring good fortune from the elders to the children. Nowadays, these red envelopes are also co-workers and friends.
According to one legend, once a year the monster called Nian (who we wrote about above) used to come out of the forest at night and attack villages – so some of the steps for protection that the ancient Chinese followed then became traditions. For instance, it is said that parents would give children money that night, so the children would have something to bribe the monster or other evil spirits with. Thus the lucky money started.
Certain foods are eaten during the Chinese New Year period, again for their good luck – like dumplings, because they represent wealth. It is believed that the more dumplings you eat, the more money you will make in the New Year. Also, fish is eaten because the word for fish in Chinese sounds like ‘surplus’.
Some Superstitions – Bathing is not allowed on New Year’s Day!
As the Spring Festival is all about bringing good luck and warding off evil and bad luck, having a bath and sweeping out garbage isn’t allowed before the 5th day of the New Year! This is, again, to ensure that good luck is not washed away. But, there is a day before the Spring Festival when you are supposed to do spring cleaning – to sweep the bad luck away. Also, during the entire New Year, hair cutting is not allowed.
There are also many superstitions about what gifts you can or can’t give. The fruit Pear, for instance, is considered bad, because the Chinese word for ‘pears’ sounds the same as the word for leaving or ‘parting’. Mirrors are also forbidden. This is true in many Asian countries. They are believed to attract cruel ghosts. Also, they can break easily and that is considered a bad omen.
Ends with the Lantern Festival
Chinese New Year in total lasts for 15 days. The last day of the Chinese New Year is marked by the Lantern Festival which honours the ancestors. This year the Lantern Festival is on the 8th of February. On this day, families get together, look at the moon, light lanterns, have meals together – that includes rice balls called yuanxiao (rice is stuffed with different fillings).
You can see thousands of red lanterns in the sky that night – it is a stunning sight.