When is Chinese New Year (07.05.2018)
Observed in China and countries with ethnic Chinese populations, such as Korea, Vietnam, and Tibet
Observed on The second new moon after the winter solstice
Observed by Chinese
The Chinese New Year, also called the Lunar New Year, is a traditional Chinese holiday and the one that lasts the longest. The festivities start on the second new Moon following the winter solstice and end 15 days later on a full Moon. The date of the New Year is established by the Chinese lunisolar calendar, which is used in places where the Buddhist and Confucian traditions have been adopted, as well as in various cultures with a Chinese influence, such as Korea, Vietnam, and Tibet. The celebration is also known as the Spring Festival (Zhun Jie), because it falls between the winter solstice and vernal equinox. Observed wherever people of Chinese heritage live, the New Year is their most significant holiday. The first week of the New Year festivities is the most important, because people travel great distances to visit family and friends and share the allimportant New Year’s Eve dinner with them.
Preparations begin a month before the celebrations start. During this time people purchase presents, food, clothing, and materials for decorations.
Houses are thoroughly cleaned to rid them of bad luck. Windowpanes and doors are usually painted red and adorned with poetic couplets and paper cutouts on themes such as wealth, happiness, and longevity.
New Year’s Eve is one of the most exciting phases of the Chinese New Year, because rituals and traditions are meticulously observed in everything from clothing to food. Specific types of meals are associated with different days during the celebration, and most of the dishes prepared are eaten because their names make some connection with what everyone hopes for in the new year. Dinner generally consists of dumplings and seafood, signifying good wishes. Fagao (which translates as “prosperity cake,” since the syllable fa can mean “to raise or generate” or “be prosperous”) is made with wheat flour, water, and sugar, and leavened with yeast or baking powder. Then the batter is steamed until it rises and splits open at the top. A whole steamed fish is a symbol of long life and good fortune.
You, which means “fish,” is pronounced just like the word for “surplus”-the good fortune of having money left after expenses are covered, and one of the greetings for the New Year, “Annyian you you,” can also mean “to enjoy a surplus” year after year. This sentiment is echoed in the wall decorations with fish images.
On New Year’s Eve (Je-sok or Je-ya) in Korea, the church bells in the capital of Seoul are rung 33 times, and everyone enjoys a bowl of duggook, a hearty soup made with rice, chicken, pheasant, other meats, pine nuts, and chestnuts. Other foods used in New Year’s feasts also promote the theme of future prosperity. These include prawns for happiness and liveliness; dried oysters (ho xyi) for all good things; and fayi-zhai, or “angel hair,” a hairlike weed, which also represents prosperity. Sweet mandarin oranges symbolize wealth and good fortune, because in the Cantonese dialect, their name also means “gold.” Baked goods with seeds and jiaozy (boiled dumplings) represent good wishes for the family. (Jiaozyi means “sleep together and have sons,” so the good wishes express hope for fertility.) It is traditional to wear red because the color keeps evil spirits away, whereas white and black are unlucky because they are associated with mourning.
After-dinner activities include board games or cards and watching television programs. Ancestors are honored by burning incense and offerings of food.
Firecrackers are set off to scare away bad spirits, and for days after New Year’s people visit each other and exchange presents.
The Chinese believe that the third day is inappropriate for visiting friends and family, calling it zhec hao, which means “easy to get into arguments.” On the fourth day, a host of deities who made a trip to heaven to report the activities of individual families return to take up their vigil once more. Most people go back to work after celebrating for four or five days. On the 13th and 14th days shopkeepers hang lanterns out for the Lantern Festival (Yuan Xyiao), and the celebrations culminate with the colorful and highly significant Lantern Festival on the evening of the 15th day of the New Year.
Origins and History
China’s festivals have evolved through the ages. In ancient times when people had a plentiful harvest, they celebrated their good fortune with major festivities.
After natural disasters the Chinese offered sacrifices to their deities and ancestors, seeking stability and peace. Over a period of time creative activities accompanied these events, and those activities gradually evolved into festivals.
The origins of the Chinese New Year are lost in the mists of antiquity, and consensus places its beginnings in prehistory. In the past when China was primarily an agricultural society, people rested only during the period following the harvest and prior to the planting of seeds. This also happened to coincide with the start of the lunar New Year. As a result, of all the traditional Chinese festivals, the New Year was perhaps the most elaborate, colorful, and important because people had time to rest and prepare for a long holiday. Around the time when the winter receded, and spring was about to begin, people from the clans assembled together. They brought forth their bounty obtained from fishing, hunting, and the fields. They shared the rewards of their efforts, danced, ate, and sang heartily. This activity had no fixed date initially, but it was usually observed at the end of each winter.
This was a time when the Chinese congratulated each other and themselves on having survived another year; it was a time to put the old one behind, and to welcome what the new year offered.
The Chinese New Year was a time to begin anew.
Socially, it was a time for family reunions, and this remains true. This holiday also stressed the importance of family ties. The dinner get-together on New Year’s Eve was among the most important family occasions of the year.
The 20th of the 12th Moon of each year was set aside for the annual housecleaning, or the “sweeping of the grounds.” Every corner of the house was thoroughly swept and cleaned. Spring couplets, written in black ink on large vertical scrolls of red paper, were put up on the walls or beside the gates. These couplets, short poems written in classical Chinese expressed good wishes for the family in the coming year. In addition, symbolic flowers and fruits were used to decorate the house, and colorful New Year’s pictures (an hua) were placed on the walls.
The new year was also the time to send the Kitchen God, Zao Run (literally, “stove master”), one of many Chinese household deities, on his way to heaven. On the 23rd of the 12th lunar month, Zao Run was supposed to rise to heaven and report the quality of each household during the past year to the Jade Emperor.
To ensure that Zao Run’s report to the Jade Emperor was favorable, each family did everything possible to stay on his good side. To ensure that his report was good (or, perhaps, to keep his mouth shut), on the evening of the 23rd a tasty farewell dinner with lots of sweets and honey was prepared, including niangao (sticky cakes), so that the Kitchen God would speak sweetly of them when the time came. Sometimes the family lit firecrackers to speed his ascent.
Nowadays in Taiwan, for New Year’s horses and small single-person litters made of yellow paper are burned to ensure that the Kitchen God has transportation for his trip to heaven.
Now freed from the vigilance of Zao Run and his wife, who would not return until the first day of the new year, the family began its serious preparations for the coming celebrations.
Because shops used to close during the last two or three days of the old year and did not reopen until after the first week of the new year, families were busy stocking up on gifts and food, preparing delicacies, and visiting barbers and hairdressers to make themselves look good.
Tradition required that all food be prepared before New Year’s Day, and all sharp instruments and tools, such as knives and scissors, be stowed away to avoid “cutting” the luck of the new year.
The kitchen and the well could not be disturbed on the first day of the new year.
The Chinese New Year was traditionally celebrated on the first day of the first Moon of the lunar calendar. (The corresponding date in the solar calendar varies from as early as January 21 to as late as February 19.) The New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations were strictly family affairs. All members of the family gathered for the important family meal on New Year’s Eve. If a family member could not attend, an empty seat would be kept to represent that person during the banquet. At midnight the younger members of each family would bow and pay their respects to their parents and elders.
On New Year’s Day the children were given ang bows (gifts of money) or lai see (little red envelopes) that contained good luck money. Everyone wore new clothes and was on his or her best behavior. It was considered improper to tell a lie, raise one’s voice, use indecent language, or break anything on the first day of the year. On the second day, people began visiting friends and relatives, taking with them gifts and lai see for the children. Visitors were greeted with traditional New Year’s delicacies, such as melon seeds, flowers, fruits, and niangao, sticky New Year’s cakes.
The entire first week of the new year was a time for socializing and having fun. There were numerous lion and dragon dances, acrobats, theatrical shows, and other diversions on the streets of cities and towns. Firecrackers, thought to drive away evil spirits, were set off continuously during the first two weeks of the new year.
One dish called yousheng was originally served for the Chinese New Year in Singapore and Malaysia, and it is now commonly served as part of the celebration in other Chinese communities.
Yusheng is a colorful salad made with raw fish, mixed with shredded, crunchy vegetables such as carrots, jicama, pickled ginger, and pomelo, and dressed with a plum sauce. Originally, it was served only on the seventh day of the new year, but it is often served in China throughout the year and can be eaten on any day of the New Year festivities.
The New Year celebrations came to an end on the 15th day of the first new Moon with the Lantern Festival. On that evening people carried lanterns into the streets and participated in parades that included a dragon dance by the youth. The dragon (made of bamboo, silk, and paper) was commonly more than 100 feet in length. The haphazard movement of the dragon was an impressive sight and made a grand end for the New Year festivities.
Between 1966 and 1980 there were no New Year’s celebrations of any length in China because they were banned at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.
Today popularly known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year’s celebrations last for 15 days.
There is a famous legend connected to this holiday.
It says that in ancient times, there was an ugly dragonlike monster known as Nian. On the first and the 15th day of every lunar month, the monster would come down from the mountains to devour people. This terrified everyone, and so they locked their doors before dusk. There was an old and wise man in the village who realized that it was the people’s fear that was making the monster so strong.
Therefore the old man collected the people together and exhorted them to fight the beast by beating drums, burning bamboo, and using fireworks, thinking the noises would scare the beast away. And this worked temporarily. But on one cold winter’s night Nian appeared again. This time, however, the people were ready; the noises the people were making terrified Nian. While running away, the monster collapsed with fatigue, and the people managed to kill it. So the people have continued the custom of beating gongs and drums and lighting fireworks to drive away monsters.
On this day, Chinese people greet each other by saying “Guo an,” meaning “Long live the festival,” and “Xin nian hao,” meaning “ Happy New Year.”