BY ANASTASIA CHOO
This year, Chinese New Year – The Year of the Rooster – begins today and lasts until February 15th, 2018. It is the most anticipated global event in China’s calendar and millions of Chinese will make their way home in the world’s largest annual human migration. As a lot of China’s 1.3 billion people work in big cities hundreds of miles from their home towns, they will use the public holiday to reunite with their families. Thousands of people are expected to descend on Chinatown, London where a traditional parade takes place on Sunday 29th to celebrate Chinese New Year.
There is no denying the fact that Chinese New Year holds immense traditional importance for the Chinese around the world. It is a time when ancient beliefs are brought back into light and age old traditions are revamped.
For those unfamiliar with Chinese New Year, here are Ten need-to-knows:
The date varies
The date for Chinese New Year changes each year, as it is based on the first moon of the Lunar calendar, it normally falls between January 21st to February 20th on the Gregorian calendar.
There are many stories surrounding Chinese New Year. Traditionally, the main reasons were to celebrate a year of hard work on the farm with family, relax and to wish for a lucky, prosperous new year with a good harvest. Although it is celebrated in winter, the Chinese call their New Year holidays ‘Spring Festival’ because it marks the end of the coldest weather and the beginning of the Spring term in the solar calendar. Celebrations used to last for fifteen days, until the full moon on the 15th which is also known as the Lantern Festival but nowadays it’s a three-day public holiday in China – less about farming and more about business.
Year of the Rooster
Every Chinese New Year starts a new animal’s zodiac year, the Chinese animal zodiac is a repeating cycle of 12 years. Each year being represented by an animal and its reputed attributes and traditionally these zodiac animals were used to date the years.
The 12 Animals of the Chinese Zodiac in order are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig. Each year is associated with a zodiac animal and your Chinese Zodiac sign is derived from your birth year based on the Chinese lunar calendar.
Sweeping the Dust
Homes are spring-cleaned – known as “sweeping the dust” it represents a wish to put away old things, bid farewell to the old year, and welcome the New Year. Old debts are repaid to start a new year. The notion of new is important and new outfits will be bought whether they are needed or not, to symbolise a new start. In affluent Hong Kong, it usually means a new outfit for at least each day of the first week with matching shoes and handbags for the women.
The Chinese New Year is awash with symbolism, red symbolises good luck and Spring couplets or New Year couplets – paired phrases, typically of seven Chinese characters each, written on red paper in black ink are pasted one each side of a door frame. Sometimes a phrase of four or five characters is affixed to the top of the door frame as well. New Year couplets are filled with best wishes. Some people write the couplets themselves, but most people buy them ready printed. Pasting spring couplets is thought to keep evil away.
Lucky Red Envelopes
Billions of red envelopes are filled with newly printed money (it is considered rude to give used notes) from the bank by adults to give to children, or from those who are in positions of authority such as bosses to their employees. It is considered auspicious to hand out as many lucky red envelopes as possible, as you are passing out your prosperity, so next year you are going to make more. In the digital world, there is a Chinese New Year app that people use to transfer money to the recipient, favoured by the younger generation.
Chinese people hold a belief that firecrackers are meant to scare away evil spirits and misfortunes right at the start of the year. This way the Chinese people hope to keep the coming year free from all evil.
According to traditional Chinese belief, the lion signifies courage, stability, and superiority. The lion’s dance is performed to chase away ghosts and evil spirits, it has become a natural complement to the fire crackers’ noise. Clashing cymbals, a gong and drums usually accompany this lively scene. The lion dance combines art, history, and Kung-Fu moves. Normally the performers are Kung-Fu practitioners, and a group of Lion Dancers consist of about 10 people.
The Lantern Festival on the full moon on the 15th day of the new lunar month marks the end of the Chinese New Year festivities. Lanterns originated in China approximately 1800 years ago, there are many legends about the origin of the Lantern Festival. The most popular one originated in the Eastern Han Dynasty, Emperor Mingdi was a devoted Buddhist and he was told that it was a tradition to light lanterns to worship Buddha on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. To promote Buddhism, Emperor Mingdi thus ordered that in addition to the palace and temples, all his subjects should display lightened lanterns in the evening of this day. Gradually, this Buddhist ritual became a popular festival. The light symbolises a bright year ahead.
During the Chinese New Year period, Chinese people greet one another with unique sayings when they meet, where ordinarily they would not greet people with whom they do not have a personal relationship. It is customary to say 恭喜發財 “Kung Hei Fat Choy” in Cantonese or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” in Mandarin which roughly translated means “greetings for happiness and prosperity.”
Happy New Year!