Chinese New Year: A Tradition of Joy & Celebration!

Chinese New Year: A Tradition of Joy

Chinese New Year is the most important date in the Chinese calendar. Unlike Western culture, Chinese culture calculates the beginning of the year at what is called the “Spring Festival,” even though the holiday occurs in winter. Chinese New Year extends between the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, and extends to the Lantern Festival, on the 15th day.

(In terms of Chinese astrology, brash, intrepid Tiger gives way to charming, tasteful Rabbit, ushering in a kinder, gentler Chinese New Year, before the auspicious Year of the Dragon in 2012. *Unlike the wicked, fire-breathing dragons of Western mythology, China’s celestial dragon symbolizes potent and benevolent power. Dragons are Western mythology, China’s celestial dragon symbolizes potent and benevolent power and Dragon years are considered particularly auspicious for new businesses, marriage and children. Dragon years also tend to boost individual fortunes and the world economy.)

Chinese New Year is traditionally celebrated with the family, and is a chance to connect deeply. Red is the most prominent color in celebrations of the holiday—meant to represent fire, which burns off bad luck, as well as representing happiness. The season is awash with red traditional clothing, red paper lanterns hung for decoration, and red money envelopes for children.

At the beginning of Chinese New Year, the Kitchen God Zaowang is celebrated as the guardian of the family kitchen, who is in charge of the family and who is the emissary sent from heaven to keep track of good and bad deeds in the family (much like Santa Claus, in some ways). Accordingly, it’s particularly important that Zaowang is kept happy, in this case with offerings of Nian Gao, a sticky cake similar to lotus root. Not only does this candy keep Zaowang happy, it’s also meant to glue his mouth shut so that he can’t report the bad deeds of the family!

Guests are also welcomed to the home with Cheun Hup, a tray of dumplings—one of which sometimes contains a hidden coin. Whoever ends up with the coin is meant to be gifted with tremendous good luck for the coming New Year.

During the time of Chinese New Year, great amounts of good luck arrive for the family household, luck which is meant to carry over to the coming year. As such, great pains are taken to make sure that nothing is done during this time to disrupt the incoming flow of blessings and good fortune (Fook).

Children (and singles) are also given red envelopes filled with good luck money during this time by married couples, and fireworks and firecrackers are lit off to frighten away any incoming bad spirits or bad luck. (Unfortunately, fireworks and firecrackers have now been banned in many Asian countries after concerns over public safety. Most Chinatowns in the United States, however, have had the ban on fireworks and firecrackers lifted at this time, including in Chinese communities in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.) Small gifts are also exchanged between people at this time.

Chinese New Year comes to an end with the Festival of Lanterns, or Shang Yuan Festival—on this night, children go out into the streets carrying lit paper lanterns in order to crown the year’s good luck. The Festival of Lanterns is one of the most enduring and best-known symbols of Chinese culture.

Mythology has it that Chinese New Year began with a fight against the Nian, an aquatic lion that lives underwater and emerges to terrorize the populace. After multiple attacks, villagers came up with a way to fight back: by loudly banging drums, lighting off firecrackers, and wearing bright red, all to startle and confuse the Nian. This apparently scared away the Nian, who vanished into the mountains and is considered to have died long ago. Yet from this legend come the customs of Chinese New Year.

Think you could handle a New Year’s celebration that lasts 15 days?

Well, if you were Chinese you’d have no choice! However, unlike our Western drink ’til the ball drops, have a hangover and watch sports then make a few resolutions of change for the year ahead, this Eastern tradition is a celebration of family, welcoming prosperity, happiness and all things lucky in the year ahead.

While overall celebration lasts 15 whole days, it culminates in midnight fireworks the 14th night and the Lantern Festival on the 15th day (their New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day respectively). Because the Chinese calendar is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements (and the lunar cycle is about 29.5 days), they insert an extra month once every few years in order to “catch up” with the solar cycle. It’s similar to our practice of adding an extra day for Leap Year and is the reason why, according to the solar calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year.

Date aside, the Chinese New Year is unchanging in that it starts on the first New Moon of the solar calendar and ends 15 days later with the first Full Moon.  By Krishna Bill



Here’s a look at what happens on each of the 15 days:

Day 1
This day is called “the welcoming of the gods of the heavens and earth.” In addition to having all debts paid off by this time, many abstain from eating meat on the first day of the new year because it is believed that this will ensure a long and happy life.

Day 2
On this day, the Chinese pray to their ancestors as well as to all the gods. They are extra kind to whatever animal marks the year. They feed them as well and believe that this is the birthday of all the animals that mark a year.

Days 3 & 4
The third and fourth days are reserved for the sons-in-laws to pay respect to their parents-in-law.

Day 5
This day is called Po Woo. It is reserved for people to stay in and welcome the God of Wealth into their homes. No one visits families and friends on the fifth day because it is thought to bring both parties bad luck.

Day 6
On this day, the Chinese visit their relatives and friends freely. They also visit the temples to pray for good fortune and health.

Day 7
The seventh day is considered the birthday of human beings. Uncut noodles are eaten to promote longevity (the longer the better!) and raw fish is eaten for success.

Day 8
Another family reunion dinner leads to a midnight prayer to Tian Gong, the God of Heaven.

Day 9
The ninth day is to make offerings to the Jade Emperor.

Days 10, 11 & 12
These are days that friends and relatives should be invited for dinner. After so much rich food, on the 13th day you should have simple rice congee and mustard greens in order to cleanse the system.

Day 13
This day should be for preparations to celebrate the Lantern Festival which is to be held on the 15th night.

Days 14 & 15
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are celebrated as a family affair, a time of reunion and thanksgiving. The celebration was traditionally highlighted with a religious ceremony given in honor of Heaven and Earth, the gods of the household and the family ancestors.

The sacrifice to the ancestors, the most vital of all the rituals, united the living members with those who had passed away. Departed relatives are remembered with great respect because they were responsible for laying the foundations for the fortune and glory of the family.

The presence of the ancestors is acknowledged on New Year’s Eve with a dinner arranged for them at the family banquet table. The spirits of the ancestors, together with the living, celebrate the onset of the New Year as one great community. The communal feast called “surrounding the stove.” It symbolizes family unity and honors the past and present generations.

Midnight on the 14th day brings a fireworks celebration and on New Year’s Day the Lantern Festival is held, including a parade of children and a lantern display. This is the bright red, festive celebration most Westerners associate with the holiday.


Do you celebrate Chinese New Year, or have you visited anywhere that does?




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