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Good Fortune This New Year - Gong Xi Fa Cai - 恭喜发财 - Kung Hei Fat Choy by Achelle Vinzons
About Chinese New Year – an Introduction

Depending on which year is used as “Year One” in the Chinese Calendar, the 2014 AD Chinese New Year can be “Chinese Year” 4712, 4711, or 4651.  These are based on the three reference points widely used by various scholars nowadays.  Outside China, however, the years of the Chinese calendar are counted from the reign of the third millennium BC Yellow Emperor.  The Chinese calendar, however, follows the 12-year cycle of the zodiac, and not a continuous numbering system.

Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year and literally translated as “Spring Festival,” is one of the most celebrated, if not the most, traditional holidays in China.  It is also the longest festival in the Chinese calendar, with celebrations beginning on the last day of the last month of the Chinese calendar, or Chinese New Year’s Eve, and ending on the 15th day of the first month of the New Year, the Lantern Festival. 

With a country that is as geographically expansive as China, different regions celebrate Chinese New Year in many different ways.  But some traditional practices and beliefs tie them all together.  On New Year’s Eve, families gather and share a joyous reunion dinner.  Homes are thoroughly cleaned to make room for the good fortune that the New Year brings and to make sure that bad fortune is swept away.  Red is the pervasive theme in decorations, clothing, and even the fireworks; the color symbolizes good fortune, wealth, happiness, and longevity in Chinese culture.

The Chinese Beast of Legend and Chinese New Year

The Legendary Nian instigated Chinese New Year!According to Chinese legend, the mythical beast known as the Nian gave birth to the tradition of Chinese New Year, and the customs and beliefs surrounding it.  On the first day of every New Year, the beast would come and eat the crops, livestock, and even children.  In order to keep their children and livelihood safe from the Nian, the villagers started to leave food for the beast outside their doors on the first day of the New Year.  They continued the practice every year when the Nian stopped eating their crops and livestock and attacking their children.  Soon after, the villagers also realized that children that wore red clothes were not bothered by the Nian, and they came to the conclusion that the beast was afraid of the color.  When the next New Year came, they hanged red spring scrolls and lanterns on their windows and doors.  They also set off firecrackers to scare off the beast.  Eventually, the Nian stopped coming and was never seen again. 


This very important Chinese festival wore many names throughout China’s history.  Here’s a brief history of the different names that used to describe this most festive of Chinese holidays:

Traditionally, the festivities surrounding Chinese New Year was known as the Nian festival (traditional Chinese: 年節; simplified Chinese: 节; pinyin: Nián Jié), which may be understood to as "festival of the year", or "new year festival". A derivative term, "Guo Nian" (traditional Chinese: 過年; simplified Chinese: 过年; pinyin: guò Nián), "to pass the year", is still commonly used to refer to the act of celebrating the arrival of the new year. An alternative name for Chinese New Year is "New Year in the Agricultural Calendar" (traditional Chinese: 農曆新年; simplified Chinese: 农历新年; pinyin: Nónglì Xīnnían), the "Agricultural Calendar" being one of the more common Chinese language names for the Chinese calendar in China.

New Year's Day itself was traditionally called Yuandan (Chinese: 元旦; pinyin: Yuándàn), literally "the first sunrise", but in 1913 the recently established Republic of China government appropriated that name to refer instead to New Year's Day in the newly adopted Gregorian Calendar, with Chinese New Year instead being called "Spring Festival" (traditional Chinese: 春節; simplified Chinese: 节; pinyin: Chūnjié), which remains the official name for the New Year's Day public holiday in both mainland China and Taiwan. Prior to 1913, "Spring Festival" instead referred to lichun, (February 4 or 5), the first solar term in a Chinese calendar year, which marked the end of winter and start of spring.

An alternative name for Chinese New Year's Day means literally "the first day of the (great) year" (Chinese: (大)年初一; pinyin: (Dà) Nián Chūyī). The New Year's Day public holiday in Hong Kong and Macau is named in Chinese, as literally "first day of the year in the Agricultural Calendar" (traditional Chinese: 農曆年初一; simplified Chinese: 农历年初一; pinyin: Nónglì Nián Chūyī) while the official English name is "the first day of Lunar New Year". Chinese New Year's Eve, a day where Chinese families gather for their annual reunion dinner,named as "Nian Ye Fan", is known as Chúxī (除夕), literally "evening of the passing".


Customs and Beliefs

Chinese New Year is a 15-day celebration that can be divided into three, distinct periods: the days leading up to Chinese New Year’s Eve; New Year’s Eve and Day; and the days after New Year’s Day. 

1.      Before the Fireworks

In keeping with the Chinese belief in good and bad luck, the days preceding New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are all about driving away the bad fortunes of the departing year and inviting good fortunes for the coming year. 

Homes are carefully dusted, swept, and turned inside out to drive away ill luck and make room for better things that the future brings.  Many Taoist or Buddhist households also painstakingly clean their altars; old decorations are removed and burned, and new ones are put up.  It is also common practice to buy new things, especially clothes, and to get rid of old stuff; both practices symbolize starting life anew. 

Chinese knots are seen everywhere during Spring Festival.Decorations also start going up days before the much anticipated CNY festivities.  Couplets – which can be printed on traditional pieces of peach wood (which are believed to ward off evil spirits) or the more modern red paper scrolls – are suspended on doorways, one on each side.  Chinese couplets for the Chinese New Year are called “Chunlian” or Spring Couplets; these are two lines of poetry which convey well wishes.  Paper cut-outs of the Chinese character “Fu,” which means happiness or good fortune, and other auspicious characters, words, and pictures are also prominently displayed all over the house.     

The famous red, Chinese knots are also hung up as decorations, and given away, as well, to family members and friends to wish them many blessings in the coming year.  Many families also paste pictures of the Gods of the Gate on their doors; these gods are supposed to guard houses and protect them from evil. 

2.      The Main Event

Fireworks kicking off Chinese New Year light up the sky all across China.This kicks off at midnight with dazzling displays of fireworks, and as much noise as the people can make.  During New Year’s Eve, the whole family gathers at the home of the most senior member of the family and shares the sumptuous “Nian Ye Fan” or reunion dinner.  This New Year’s family banquet features traditional meat and fish dishes that are often served during special occasions, and a hot pot.  Foods that are served are also chosen because they signify happiness, wealth, and good fortune, or because their names sound like Chinese words that mean good things.

Chinese New Year’s Eve and Chinese New Year’s Day are also all about family traditions.  Perhaps, most important than anything else is the tradition of paying respects to their ancestors, as well as the deities, and spending time with the oldest and most senior members of the family. 

During the succeeding days, other relatives and also friends are visited and given gifts and good wishes.  Nowadays, however, many Chinese who are too busy to visit one home after another send their greetings via phone or emails instead. 

Temple Fairs are also part of the CNY festivities, especially in Beijing.  From the traditional practices of worship, temple fairs have evolved to have more of a carnival atmosphere, with many performances, such as puppet and magic shows, held at parks. 

The Lantern Festival is the last day of the 15-day celebrations of the Spring Festival.  Colorful lanterns of different shapes and sizes, and which are made with paper and/or silk with candles or light bulbs inside, are displayed on the evening of the 15th day of the Lunar Calendar.  During the Lantern Festival, families once again gather and share the traditional rice dumplings, which symbolize harmony, reunion, and happiness. 
3.      Cracking Fires, Dancing Dragons and Lions, and All Things Red

Chinese firecrackers ward off evil spirits at New Years, but also add to the already deadly air pollution.Very loud noises are believed to drive away evil spirits.  During ancient times, the Chinese filled up bamboo stems with gun powder and ignited these to create small explosions during the New Year.  Nowadays, modern firecrackers are used.  Small firecrackers, each one wrapped in red paper, are strung together and hung vertically.  These strings are usually made up of hundreds of firecrackers, so that when they are ignited, the small explosions follow one another and last for more than just a few minutes!  The noise also symbolizes and ignites the merriment of welcoming a New Year.  Lighting up firecrackers has always been an integral part of Chinese New Year’s celebrations. 

Another festive way that the Chinese wards of evil spirits during the New Year is through dragon and lion dances.  The dragon is a symbol of luck in Chinese culture; it also represents great power, dignity, wisdom, and fertility.  Elaborate and colorful dragon or lion figures are built using bamboo, wood, fabric, and, nowadays, also aluminum and plastic.  The longer the body of the dragon or lion, the more luck and prosperity it will bring in the coming year.

Dancers make the dragon/lion dance using poles positioned underneath the body, which also hides them.  The dance is made up of sinuous and undulating movements that supposedly mimic those of the revered river spirit. 

Red envelopes or packets, also called hongbao or ang pow, are given to children, unmarried and younger family members, and the elders.  These envelopes contain “lucky money.”  The money should always be of even numbers (the Chinese, by the way, go with the first digit of a number to determine if it’s odd or even); numbers 6 and 8 are considered very lucky numbers.  It is also important that the bills placed in the envelope are new. 

Red (and brand new) clothes are worn for the New Year, as the color helps shoo away bad luck and evil spirits; it also symbolizes prosperity, truth, sincerity, and virtue.  For this same reason, most CNY decorations, such as lanterns, and cakes and candies are also predominantly red in color.    

There’s some of the basics about Chinese New Year. To learn more, we suggest you find a great Chinese lady on CLM, make her your own Chinese love, and then get her to show you the fine details about this most important Chinese festival.

Gong Xi Fa Cai Everyone!

Wishing you all a Happy Chinese New Year from CLM

From: Original         Author: Achelle Vinzons         Time: 1/22/2014 5:22:56 PM

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#2014-01-23 20:21:00 by Barry1 @Barry1
Reply Thank you for this interesting breakdown the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, Achelle.

I wonder though how many people are like me?

Whenever such busy periods occur here in the West, such as Christmas or New Year's Eve, or other days of celebration, I make a special point to NOT go out and about, as these are the times when it's too crowded - most uncomfortable - to do so.

I prefer to travel in the quiet times, when I know I'll be able to get a seat on the train or the bus. Would this make me a "frowned upon" person in China, being someone who never travels when everyone else is traveling? lol

By the way, you also said,

"In order to keep their children and livelihood safe from the Nian, the villagers started to leave food for the beast outside their doors on the first day of the New Year."

This reminded me of a Chinese friend of mine. She solemnly recounted that during the years around World War 2, when the Japanese troops were invading and ransacking parts of China, her grandparents would always be on high alert as they lived in a region known to be targeted. Whenever they heard that the Japenese were in their area, they'd hide away somewhere for a few days. But before they left home, they'd always leave plenty of food and a meal on their table. The reasoning for this being that if the troops entered their house, rather than looting it, they'd instead eat the meal and leave the house unscathed.

We need to remember such poignant points, lest through the swirling, all enveloping mists of time, we forget these little factual anecdotes surrounding the rich and sometimes anguished, if not downright heartbreaking history of this mighty kingdom, China.
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