Friday, January 31st marks the Lunar New Year – often referred to as “Chinese New Year,” since it is most commonly associated with China. Actually though, a number of countries celebrate Lunar New Year – amounting to one in six people in the entire world!
The date of Lunar New Year changes from year to year, as it corresponds to the new moon (black moon) in either January or February. Traditionally, celebrations lasted for fifteen days, ending on the date of the full moon. In China, the public holiday lasts for three days and is the biggest celebration of the year. The Chinese calendar is made up of a cycle of twelve years, each named after an animal. This year, the Year of the Snake is ending, and the Year of the Horse is beginning!
Families throughout the world will get together to celebrate, and also use the holiday as a special time to remember those who have died. In the days leading to New Year’s, families buy presents, decorations and food. People have their hair cut and buy new clothes in order to start the New Year fresh. Houses are cleaned from top to bottom to sweep out any bad luck from the old year and clear the way for good luck. However, it is bad luck to clean on New Year’s Day itself!
Many families put up lights outside their homes, and doors and windows are often painted red. Red is believed to be a lucky color, and is also thought to scare off the monster Nian, who is said to come on New Year’s. On New Year’s Eve, decorations made from red and gold paper are hung on the doors to bring good luck. The gold color represents wealth. These drapes are marked with messages of good fortune, such as “happiness,” “prosperity” and “long life,” known as Spring Couplets.
There is also a traditional feast. One especially popular food is “jiaozi,” dumplings boiled in water. There dumplings are prepared on New Year’s Eve and served just after midnight with garlic-soy sauce. A coin is often hidden in one of them, and is thought to bring luck to whoever finds it. The dumplings are shaped like silver and gold bars in the hopes that they will bring good luck and good fortune. Food is also prepared for the spirits of the family’s ancestors, who are thought to be at the meal.
After dinner, the family will stay up playing card games, or board games like Chinese chess. Every light is supposed to be kept on till midnight, when there are fireworks meant to scare off evil spirits. Then, early on New Year’s Day, children will receive red envelopes called “Hong Bao,” which contains sweets or money. These are usually given by parents or grandparents; however, it is considered rude to open one in the presence of the person who has given it. Often, these envelopes feature a picture of a fish, as the Chinese word for fish sounds the same as the word for plentiful.
Street celebrations often feature a traditional lion dance, thought to bring good luck. There are usually two dancers, one acting as the head and the other the body. There is a mirror on the lion’s head so that evil spirits will be frightened away by their own reflections. The parade often ends with a dragon dance.
People great each other by saying “Kung Hei Fat Choy,” “Happy New Year!” Kung Hei Fat Choy to you all!
Want to learn more about Chinese New Year? This wonderful site features information, educational games and fun crafts, like making a horse or dragon puppet!