Chinese New Year
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.Chinese New Year (Chinese: 春節, 春节, Chūnjíe; or 農曆新年, 农历新年, Nónglì Xīnnián), also known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. It consists of a period of celebrations, starting on New Year's Day, celebrated on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, i.e. the day of the second new moon after the day on which the winter solstice occurs, unless there is an intercalary eleventh or twelfth month in the lead-up to the New Year—in such a case, the New Year falls on the day of the third new moon after the solstice. (The next time this occurs is in 2033.) The Chinese New Year period ends with the Lantern Festival, on the fifteenth day of the festival.
Legend has it that in ancient China, Nian ("Nyan") was a man-devouring predator beast that could infiltrate houses silently. The Chinese soon learned that Nian was sensitive to loud noises and the color red, and they scared it away with explosions, fireworks and the liberal use of color red domestically. These customs led to the first New Year celebrations.
Celebrated internationally in areas with large populations of ethnic Chinese, Chinese New Year is considered to be a major holiday for the Chinese as well as ethnic groups such as the Mongolians, Koreans, the Miao (Chinese Hmong), the Vietnamese (see Tết), Tibetans, the Nepalese and the Bhutanese (see Losar) who were influenced by Chinese culture in terms of religious and philosophical worldview, language and culture in general. Chinese New Year is also the time when the largest human migration takes place when Chinese all around the world return home on the eve of Chinese New Year to have reunion dinners with their families.
The New Year season lasts fifteen days. The first week is the most important and most often celebrated with visits to friends and family as well as greetings of good luck. The celebrations end on the important and colourful Lantern Festival on the evening of the 15th day of the month. However, Chinese believe that on the third day (年初三) of the Chinese New Year it is not appropriate to visit family and friends, and call the day "chec hao" (赤口), meaning "easy to get into arguments".
The date of the Chinese New Year is determined by the Chinese calendar, a lunisolar calendar. The same calendar is used in countries that have adopted the Confucian and Buddhism tradition and in many cultures influenced by the Chinese, notably the Koreans, the Tibetans, the Vietnamese and the pagan Bulgars. Chinese New Year starts on the first day of the new year containing a new moon (some sources even include New Year's Eve) and ends on the Lantern Festival fourteen days later. This occurs around the time of the full moon as each lunation is about 29.53 days in duration. In the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, on a date between January 21 and February 21.
On the days before the New Year celebration, Chinese families give their home a thorough cleaning. It is believed the cleaning sweeps away bad luck and makes their homes ready for good luck to arrive. All brooms and dust pans are put away on New Year's Eve so that good luck cannot be swept away. Some people give their homes, doors and windowpanes a new coat of red paint. Homes are decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets (short phrases) that speak of "happiness", "wealth", "longevity".
A reunion dinner is held on New Year's Eve where members of the family, near and far, get together for celebration. The New Year's Eve dinner is very large and traditionally includes chicken. Fish (魚, yú) is included, but not eaten up completely (and the remaining stored overnight), as the Chinese phrase 年年有餘; (nián nián yǒu yú, or "every year there is leftover/surpluses") is a homophone for phrases which could mean "be blessed every year" or "have something leftover every year" or phrases to that effect, since "yú" is also the pronunciation for "leftover" or more accurately, surplus. A type of black hair-like algae, pronounced "fatt choy" in Cantonese, is also featured in many dishes since its name sounds similar to "prosperity". Hakka will serve kiu nyuk (扣肉) and ngiong tiu fu. Because certain things and/or food sound alike to certain Chinese well-wishes, the belief is that having one will lead to the other, like the old child's aphorism "step on a crack, break your mother's back".
Chinese Ancient Gold Nugget
Most Northerners serve dumplings as the main dish on this festive season, although most Chinese around the world would do the same because it is believed that dumplings (饺子--jiǎo zi) 饺子 is wrapped in the semblance of Chinese gold nuggets a long time ago in ancient China. This gold nugget is called 金元宝 (jin yuán bǎo). However, mandarin oranges are the most popular and most abundant fruit during Chinese New Year amongst Chinese simply because of, inter alia, how the name of the fruit is phonetically similar to gold -- Jin ju (金橘子) or Kamm (金) in Cantonese.
First day of the new year
The first day (初一 or "chu yi") is for the welcoming of the gods of the heavens and earth. Many people abstain from meat consumption on the first day because it is believed that this will ensure long and happy lives for them.
New Year's day is also celebrated within the family. Usually family members gather on the morning of New Year's Day. It is at this gathering that red envelopes are given to unmarried members of the family, usually by married members of the family. The age of the recipient is immaterial to receiving the envelope. Married couples usually give out two red envelopes, one each from wife and husband, on the first new year after being married. In subsequent years they may give one as a couple.
Red envelopes traditionally consisted of amounts which were considered multiples. Amounts like $2 (two pieces of $1), or $20 were acceptable. Similarly "multiples" such as $1.10 and $2.20 were also acceptable. However, this is not strictly adhered to. The gift was originally a token amount but these days it is not uncommon to receive large sums in affluent families. In some families this tradition has evolved into the practice to substituting money-like instruments (stocks, bonds, unit trust) in place of large sums of cash.
Red envelopes are also given to unmarried visitors but the sums are often smaller than the envelope given to family members or close friends. Employers may also give red envelopes to their employees on the first working day after the festival.
Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time where family members, in order of their seniority, will pay a visit to their oldest and most senior member of their family, usually their parents or grandparents, or even great grandparents. The venue of the aforementioned Renunion Dinner is usually, if not always, at the eldest and most respected family member's residence. This has been in practice for many centuries.
Some families will invite a Lion dance troupe to their home as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Lunar New Year as well as to force-evict bad spirits out of the premises. Chinese red firecrackers will also be on display where the deaftening explosions of each firecracker is believed to scare evil spirits away.
Second day of the new year
On this day, the Chinese offer prayers to their ancestors as well as to all the deities. They are extra kind to dogs and feed them well. It is also believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs.
Third day and fourth of the new year
These are two days for sons-in-laws to pay respect and visit their parents-in-law. The fourth day is also an occassion to pay homage to "Cai Shen", the Chinese God of Wealth.
Fifth day of the new year
This day is called Po Woo. This is the day when people stay home to welcome the God of Wealth. Traditionally, people do not visit families and friends on the fifth day because it is believed it will bring both parties bad luck.
Sixth day through the tenth day of the new year
From the sixth to the tenth day, people visit their relatives and friends freely. Many people also visit temples to pray for good fortune and health.
Seventh day of the new year
The seventh day traditionally is known as the common man's birthday, the day when everyone grows one year older. It is also the day when tossed fish salad, yusheng, is eaten. People get together to toss the colourful salad and make wishes for continued wealth and prosperity. This is celebrated primarily amongst the Chinese in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Singapore, a tradition which may mean nothing to other Chinese.
The seventh day is also the day for farmers to display their produce. Farmers make a drink from seven types of vegetables to celebrate the occasion.
Eighth day of the new year
On this day, the Fujian people have another family reunion dinner. At midnight they offer prayers to the Jade Emperor or the God of Heaven.
Ninth day of the new year
On this day, people make offerings to the Jade Emperor.
Tenth day through twelfth day of the new year
From the tenth day through the twelfth day are periods when friends and relatives would be invited for dinner.
Thirteenth day of the new year
On the thirteenth day, people traditionally have simple rice congee and mustard greens to cleanse their digestive system after having so much rich food during the past twelve days.
Fourteenth day of the new year
On this day, people have preparations to celebrate the Lantern Festival which is held on the fifteenth day (last new year day).
Fifteenth day of the new year
The fifteenth and last day of the new year is celebrated as Yuanxiao jie (元宵节) or otherwise known as Chap Goh Mei in Fujian dialect, marked by the eating of tangyuan (Simplified Chinese: 汤圆; Traditional Chinese: 湯圓; Hanyu Pinyin: tāngyuán), a sweet rice ball dumpling soup. Depending on locality, the same day may also be celebrated as the Lantern Festival, or as the Chinese Valentine's Day.
Traditionally, red packets (Mandarin: 'hong bao' (紅包); Hokkien: 'ang pow' (POJ: âng-pau); Hakka: 'fung bao'; Cantonese: 'lai see' (利是)) are passed out during the Chinese New Year's celebrations, from married couples to unmarried people (usually children). Chinese New Year is celebrated with firecrackers, dragon dances and lion dances. Typically the game of mahjong is played in some families.
The Chinese New Year is often accompanied by loud, enthusiastic greetings, often refered to as 吉祥話 (Jíxiánghùa), or loosely translated as auspicious words or phrases. Some of the most common examples may include:
Traditional Chinese: 新年快樂; Simplified Chinese: 新年快乐; pinyin: Xīnnián kuàilè; Hokkien POJ: Sin-nî khòai-lo̍k; Cantonese: Sun nin fai loh. A more contemporary greeting reflective of western influences, it literally translates from the greeting "Happy new year" more common in the west.
Traditional Chinese: 恭喜發財; Simplified Chinese: 恭喜发财; pinyin: Gōngxǐ fācái; Hokkien Keong hee huat chye (POJ: Kiong-hí hoat-châi); Cantonese: Kung hei fat choi (also spelled kung hei fat choy or kung hey fat choi); Hakka: Kung hee fat choi, which loosely translates to "Congratulations and be prosperous." Often mistakenly assumed to be synonymous with "Happy new year", its usage dates back several centuries, with the Cantonese transliteration said to have first entered English usage in the 1800s, for instance. While the first two words of this phrase had a much longer historical significance (legend has it that the congratulatory messages were traded for surviving the ravaging beast of Nian, although in practical terms in may also involve surviving the harsh winter conditions), the last two words were added later as capitalism and consumerism ideas took greater significance in Chinese societies around the world.
The saying is now commonly heard in English speaking communities for greetings during Chinese New Year in parts of the world where there is a sizeable Chinese-speaking community, for instance in Australia, Canada and America among others. In other English-speaking communities with a larger Chinese-speaking population, the Mandarin version tend to prevail especially when multiple dialect groups exist, particularly in Malaysia and Singapore.
Numerous other greetings exist, some of which may be exclaimed out loud to no one in particular during specific events or actions. For example, as breaking objects during the new year is considered inauspicious, one may then say 歲歲平安 (Suìsuì píngān) immediately, which means everlasting peace year after year. 歲 (Suì) sounds phonetically similar to the word 碎 (Suì), the latter of which refers to the action of shattering, in a demonstration of the Chinese love for utilising phonetical patterns in coming up with similar auspicious phrases. Hence, 年年有余 (Niánnián yǒuyú), meaning a wish for surpluses and bountiful harvests every year, plays on the word yú to also refer to 魚 (meaning fish), thus using it as a catch phrase for fish-based Chinese new year dishes or writtern on paintings or graphics of fish and hung on walls or presented as gifts.
Other circumstances which may trigger the use of these greetings or phrases may be when children greet their elders just before receiving their red packets, when gifts are exchanged, during visits to the temples, or even when tossing the shredded ingredients of Yusheng particularly popular in Malaysia and Singapore.
Updated: 1:01 PM GMT on July 01, 2006
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