Today all Chinese around the globe celebrate the coming of the new year 4642 ~ the Rooster with wood element. Some people say it’s going to be a time of opportunity and threat and over-interpretation.
People born in the Year of the Rooster are deep thinkers, capable, and talented. They like to be busy and are devoted beyond their capabilities and are deeply disappointed if they fail. People born in the Rooster Year are often a bit eccentric, and often have rather difficult relationship with others. They always think they are right and usually are! They frequently are loners and though they give the outward impression of being adventurous, they are timid. Rooster people’s emotions like their fortunes, swing very high to very low. They can be selfish and too outspoken, but are always interesting and can be extremely brave. Well, that’s what the Chinese horoscope says about people who were born in rooster year.
Well, then, what’s the history behind the oldest celebration of welcoming a new year?
History and Origin of Chinese New Year
While January 1st is easy to remember, the specific date of Chinese New Year changes each year. The date of Chinese New Year changes and is different from the date of New Year’s in the countries that use the Western Gregorian calendar. It is based on the Chinese calendar, which is a complex combination of the solar and lunar calendars. (Please follow this link for more elaborate explanation on Chinese Calendar from Wikipedia.) The New Year season is also called the Spring Festival (the celebrations last for 15 days) as it begins at the start of the Spring term according to the Chinese calendar.
The Chinese New Year has its roots in many interesting legends. One of the most popular of these legends is the legend of Nian—a vicious and fearful beast. Nian was believed to have a huge mouth and people said that this ferocious Nian could swallow humans in just one gulp. Obviously, it was greatly dreaded and in order to keep Nian at bay, the Chinese put up red paper couplets and decorations on doors and windows at the end of each year because Nian was believed to be dead scared of the color red. Firecrackers are also burst during this time with the intention of scaring away Nian or any evil whatsoever! Thereby the Chinese start off the year with a feeling of content and renewal of having been able to keep off Nian for another year. They wish each othergood luck and fortune and a prosperous “Xin Nian” or “Happy New Year”. (‘xin’ means ‘new’ and ‘nian’ meaning ‘year’).
And the Chinese New Year is also known as ‘Spring Festival’ because it marks the beginning of Spring—the season of renewal and rebirth. Quite aptly, a predominant feeling of restoration, new start or rejuvenation prevails all around. Everything looks colorful and cheery on the Chinese New Year day with the decorations in bright colors and the festive spirit in each heart.
Preparations tend to begin a month from the date of the Chinese New Year (similar to a Western Christmas), when people start buying presents, decoration materials, food and clothing. A huge clean-up gets underway days before the New Year, when Chinese houses are cleaned from top to bottom, to sweep away any traces of bad luck, and doors and windowpanes are given a new coat of paint, usually red. The doors and windows are then decorated with paper cuts and couplets with themes such as happiness, wealth and longevity printed on them.
The eve of the New Year is perhaps the most exciting part of the event, as anticipation creeps in. Here, traditions and rituals are very carefully observed in everything from food to clothing. Dinner is usually a feast of seafood and dumplings, signifying different good wishes. Delicacies include prawns, for liveliness and happiness, dried oysters (or ho xi), for all things good, raw fish salad or yu sheng to bring good luck and prosperity, Fai-hai (Angel Hair), an edible hair-like seaweed to bring prosperity, and dumplings boiled in water (Jiaozi) signifying a long-lost good wish for a family. It’s usual to wear something red as this colour is meant to ward off evil spirits – but black and white are out, as these are associated with mourning. After dinner, the family sit up for the night playing cards, board games or watching TV programmes dedicated to the occasion. At midnight, the sky is lit up by fireworks.
On the day itself, an ancient custom called Hong Bao, meaning Red Packet, takes place. This involves married couples giving children and unmarried adults money in red envelopes. Then the family begins to say greetings from door to door, first to their relatives and then their neighbours. Like the Western saying “let bygones be bygones,” at Chinese New Year, grudges are very easily cast aside.
15 Days Celebration of Chinese New Year
The Chinese do not restrict their New Year celebrations to just one or two days. Rather, they spread it over a span of 15 days and celebrate the occasion with their many rituals and traditional customs.
The first day of the Chinese New Year celebrations is set aside to welcome the gods of the heavens and the earth. The Chinese don’t eat meat or any non-vegetarian food on the first day because that is believed to bring bad luck for them in the coming year.
On the second day, the Chinese people pay reverence to their ancestors as also to the gods. They even pamper dogs on this day by feeding them well, as they consider this day to be the birthday of all dogs!
The third and fourth days of the Chinese New Year celebrations is a time for married daughters to pay a visit to their parents’ home along with her husband, who is supposed to pay his regards to his in-laws with warm New Year gifts and greetings.
The Chinese stay indoors on the fifth day to welcome the God of Wealth and thereby bring lots of good fortune in! This day is also known as Po Woo. People refrain from visiting friends and relatives on Po Woo as it’s believed to spell bad luck for everyone to disregard the God of Wealth.
From the sixth day onwards to the tenth day of the Chinese New Year, people engage in social activities—visiting friends, neighbors and relatives, inviting them or just exchanging greetings and good wishes for the fresh days ahead! Be it friends, family, colleagues or your sweetheart, this time of the Chinese New Year is the perfect time to warm up and make them feel loved and special.
On the seventh day of the Chinese New Year, it’s time for the farmers to exhibit their produce. To celebrate this greatly prosperous event, they prepare a drink from seven types of vegetables and make merry. This day of the Chinese New Year is also believed to be the birthday of all human beings. Many symbolic food are eaten—noodles stand for ‘long life’, fish (yu) symbolizes ‘surplus’ and hence, assures success in the days ahead, meat balls (rou wan) represent ‘reunion’, dumplings (shuei jiao) are relished to ensure good lu
ck and fortune…so on and so forth.
On the eighth day, the Fujian people celebrate with another family reunion dinner and at about midnight, they offer prayers to Tian Gong, their God of Heaven.
The ninth day of the Chinese New Year witnesses innumerable offerings in the central courtyard of temples to mark the birthday of the Jade Emperor, who is believed to be born just after midnight on the ninth day.
The Chinese celebrate the tenth, eleventh and twelfth days of the New Year with special people around. This is a time specially meant for invitations, when they go out inviting their loved ones for a sumptuous New Year dinner.
To balance the over-eating and rich food of the preceding days, the thirteenth day of the Chinese New Year is observed with simple meals like rice congee and mustard greens (choi sum).
On the fourteenth day, preparations start in full swing for the grand and glorious Lantern Festival. The Chinese get their teeth into the arrangements for this special event, which is scheduled for the next or the fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
The fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year showcases the Festival of Lanterns and with this popular extravaganza, the hype and hoopla of a prosperous Chinese New Year comes to a close!
So basically, during the 15-day celebration of Chinese New Year, people make a fresh start and set the tone for the upcoming year. It is a time for reconciliation, to make peace and forgive old grudges. People are warm and friendly to one another, and many families, friends and neighbors exchange gifts. There are many practices that symbolize a new start, homes and businesses are cleaned, and many people wear only new clothes on New Year’s Day. A very important part of the New Year celebration is to honor and respect deceased relatives and ancestors. This is also because family unity is a central value of Chinese New Year. The holiday brings families together to celebrate with each other. This 15-day celebration ends with the Lantern Festival.
The Lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival ends the 15-day celebration of Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, and is celebrated the night of the first full moon of the lunar New Year.
There are many different stories about the origins of the Lantern Festival, which has been in practice for around 2,000 years. Some of these stories are based on spirituality, and others on events that happened in the past. People celebrate the Festival in different ways, but the main attraction has always been the lanterns.
Lantern Festival lanterns are very diverse. Many of them illustrate scenes from historic Chinese stories and legends that express traditional values. They are also made to represent the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac and heroic figures. These are only some examples. The variety of lanterns is limitless. A popular component of some lanterns is lantern riddles. These are riddles that are stuck on the surface of lanterns for people to guess. The subjects of the riddles are often traditional Chinese songs, poems, stories or historical events. People very much enjoy the challenge of solving the riddles and lantern riddle parties are sometimes held at temples on the night of the Lantern Festival. So not only are the lanterns beautiful and decorative, they also celebrate and express Chinese history and culture.
Lantern Festival is also popularly referred to as Chinese Valentine’s Day. In the past, it was the only day of the year that a single woman could go out (chaperoned) and be seen by eligible bachelors. Now, many single people gather at the festival, and some play matchmaking games with the lanterns.
Lantern Festival is also celebrated by eating tang yuan, round balls of sticky rice flour with a variety of fillings, including black sesame paste, tangerine peel, walnuts, meats, fish, and vegetables. It is an important practice to eat tang yuan during the lantern festival because they symbolize family reunion and unity, important values of the celebration, and their shape represents the full moon.
Although celebrations of the Chinese New Year vary around the world, the underlying message is one of peace and happiness for family members and friends.
Zhu fu da jia (here are my wishes to you all):
Xin nian fai le, gong xi fa chai!