Happy Chinese New Year… Year of the Horse.

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1-25-2014

It is the Holiday season and things are in full swing.  I am not talking about the holiday season in the USA. That time has passed nearly a month ago. No, I am referring to China’s Spring Festival. It is their version of our Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and even a bit of July 4th. They have a huge feast like Americans do during our Thanksgiving. Gifts are given this time of year in the form of red packets (envelopes) filled with money. Kids get the packets, toys and sweets. Decorations are hung in red for luck. Of course they have a new year’s celebration. And fireworks fill the sky. Other similarities to our American holiday season are:

  • It is the biggest shopping season for retailers. Food, gifts, new clothes, electronics, and more are purchased this time of year as gifts and personal use.
  • Family is very important this time of year. It is expected that you go home, regardless of cost and distance, to be with your parents. It is called the Great Migration. Hundreds of millions of people crowd buses, trains, planes and roads to get home.
  • Red is the primary color of the holidays. It is established for luck.
  • Americans watch football on Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. China has a 4 hour long variety TV show called the Spring TV Gala Show.

Instead of typing something that is already written and explained, the following is Wikipedia’s version of Chinese New Year’s and Spring Festival. Oh, I guess I should wish everyone Happy Birthday. In China, everyone turns one year older on the 7th day of the holiday. No need to remember your actual birthday. And, sadly, you are actually one year older that what you think you are.

Chinese New Year is an important traditional Chinese holiday celebrated on the first day of the year of the Chinese calendar. In China, it is also known as the Spring Festival, the literal translation of the modern Chinese name. Chinese New Year celebrations traditionally run from Chinese New Year’s Eve, the last day of the last month of the Chinese calendar, to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first month, making the festival the longest in the Chinese calendar. Because the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, the Chinese New Year is often referred to as the “Lunar New Year“.

Within China, regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese new year vary widely. Often, the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s Day is an occasion for Chinese families to gather for the annual reunion dinner. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly cleanse the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors will be decorated with red color paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of “good fortune” or “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity.” Other activities include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red paper envelopes.

Although the Chinese calendar traditionally does not use continuously numbered years, outside China its years are often numbered from the reign of the 3rd millennium BC Yellow Emperor. But at least three different years numbered 1 are now used by various scholars, making the year beginning in 2013 AD the “Chinese Year” 4711, 4710, or 4650.

According to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nian. Nian would come on the first day of New Year to eat livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year. It was believed that after the Nian ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. One day people saw that the Nian was scared away by a little child wearing red. The villagers then understood that the Nian was afraid of the color red. Time when the New Year was about to come, the villagers would hang red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors. People also used firecrackers to frighten away the Nian. From then on, Nian never came to the village again. The Nian was eventually captured by Hongjun Laozu, an ancient Taoist monk. The Nian became Hongjun Laozu’s mount.

On the days immediately before the New Year celebration, Chinese families give their home a thorough cleaning. There is a Cantonese saying “Wash away the dirt on ninyabaat“, but the practice is not restricted to nin’ya’baat. It is believed the cleaning sweeps away the bad luck of the preceding year and makes their homes ready for good luck. Brooms and dust pans are put away on the first day so that the newly arrived good luck cannot be swept away. Some people give their homes, doors and window-frames a new coat of red paint; decorators and paper-hangers do a year-end rush of business prior to Chinese New Year. Homes are often decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets. Purchasing new clothing and shoes also symbolize a new start. Any hair cuts need to be completed before the New Year, as cutting hair on New Year is considered bad luck due to the homonymic nature of the word “hair” (fa) and the word for “prosperity”. Businesses are expected to pay off all the debts outstanding for the year before the new year eve, extending to debts of gratitude. Thus it is a common practice to send gifts and rice to close business associates, and extended family members.

In many households where Buddhism or Taoism is prevalent, home altars and statues are cleaned thoroughly, and altars that were adorned with decorations from the previous year are taken down and burned a week before the new year starts, to be replaced with new decorations. Taoists (and Buddhists to a lesser extent) will also “send gods”, an example would be burning a paper effigy of Zao Jun the Kitchen God, the recorder of family functions. This is done so that the Kitchen God can report to the Jade Emperor of the family household’s transgressions and good deeds. Families often offer sweet foods (such as candy) in order to “bribe” the deities into reporting good things about the family.

Prior to the Reunion Dinner, a thanksgiving prayer offering to mark the safe passage of the previous year is held. Confucianists take the opportunity to remember the ancestors, and those who had lived before them are revered.

The biggest event of any Chinese New Year’s Eve is the Reunion Dinner,named as “Nian Ye Fan”. A dish consisting of fish will appear on the tables of Chinese families. It is for display for the New Year’s Eve dinner. This meal is comparable to Christmas dinner in the West. In northern China, it is customary to make dumplings after dinner to eat around midnight. Dumplings symbolize wealth because their shape resembles a Chinese sycee. By contrast, in the South, it is customary to make a glutinous new year cake and send pieces of it as gifts to relatives and friends in the coming days of the new year. Niángāo literally means “new year cake” with a homophonous meaning of “increasingly prosperous year in year out”.[15] After dinner, some families go to local temples hours before the new year begins to pray for a prosperous new year by lighting the first incense of the year; however in modern practice, many households hold parties and even hold a countdown to the new year. Traditionally, firecrackers were once lit to scare away evil spirits with the household doors sealed, not to be reopened until the new morning in a ritual called “opening the door of fortune”  Beginning in 1982, the CCTV New Year’s Gala was broadcast four hours before the start of the New Year.

First day

The first day is for the welcoming of the deities of the heavens and earth, officially beginning at midnight. It is a traditional practice to light fireworks, burn bamboo sticks and firecrackers and to make as much of a din as possible to chase off the evil spirits as encapsulated by nian of which the term guo-nian was derived. Many people, especially Buddhists, abstain from meat consumption on the first day because it is believed that this will ensure longevity for them. Some consider lighting fires and using knives to be bad luck on New Year’s Day, so all food to be consumed is cooked the days before. On this day, it is considered bad luck to use the broom.

Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time to honor one’s elders and families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended families, usually their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

Second day

Incense is burned at the graves of ancestors as part of the offering and prayer ritual.

The second day of the Chinese New Year, known as kāinián, “beginning of the year” was when married daughters visited their birth parents, relatives and close friends. (Traditionally, married daughters didn’t have the opportunity to visit their birth families frequently.)

During the days of imperial China, “beggars and other unemployed people circulate[d] from family to family, carrying a picture [of the God of Wealth] shouting, “Cai Shen dao!” [The God of Wealth has come!].” Householders would respond with “lucky money” to reward the messengers. Business people of the Cantonese dialect group will hold a ‘Hoi Nin’ prayer to start their business on the 2nd day of Chinese New Year so they will be blessed with good luck and prosperity in their business for the year.

Some believe that the second day is also the birthday of all dogs and remember them with special treats.

Third day

The third day is known as Chìkǒu, directly translated as “red mouth”. Chìkǒu is also called Chìgǒurì or “Chìgǒu’s Day”. Chìgǒu, literally “red dog”, is an epithet of “the God of Blazing Wrath”. Rural villagers continue the tradition of burning paper offerings over trash fires. It is considered an unlucky day to have guests or go visiting.

Fourth day

In those communities that celebrate Chinese New Year for only two or three days, the fourth day is when corporate “spring dinners” kick off and business returns to normal.

Fifth day

This day is the God of Wealth’s birthday. It is also common in China that on the 5th day people will shoot off firecrackers to get Guan Yu‘s attention, thus ensuring his favor and good fortune for the new year.

Seventh day

The seventh day, traditionally known as Rénrì (the common person’s birthday), is the day when everyone grows one year older.

Eighth day

Another family dinner is held to celebrate the eve of the birth of the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven. People normally return to work by the eighth day. The Store owners will host a lunch/dinner with their employees, thanking their employees for the work they have done for the whole year.

Ninth day

The ninth day of the New Year is a day for Chinese to offer prayers to the Jade Emperor of Heaven in the Daoist Pantheon.Incense, tea, fruit, vegetarian food or roast pig, and gold paper is served as a customary protocol for paying respect to an honored person.

Tenth day

The Jade Emperor’s party is also celebrated on this day.

Thirteenth day

On the 13th day people will eat pure vegetarian food to clean out their stomach due to consuming too much food over the preceding two weeks.

This day is dedicated to the General Guan Yu, also known as the Chinese God of War. Guan Yu was born in the Han dynasty and is considered the greatest general in Chinese history. He represents loyalty, strength, truth, and justice. According to history, he was tricked by the enemy and was beheaded.

Almost every organization and business in China will pray to Guan Yu on this day. Before his life ended, Guan Yu had won over one hundred battles and that is a goal that all businesses in China want to accomplish. In a way, people look at him as the God of Wealth or the God of Success.

Fifteenth day

The fifteenth day of the new year is celebrated as the Lantern Festival. Rice dumplings tangyuan, a sweet glutinous rice ball brewed in a soup, are eaten this day. Candles are lit outside houses as a way to guide wayward spirits home. This day is celebrated as the Lantern Festival, and families walk the street carrying lighted lanterns.

In Malaysia and Singapore, this day is celebrated by individuals seeking for a love partner, a different version of Valentine’s Day. Normally, single women would write their contact number on mandarin oranges and throw it in a river or a lake while single men would collect them and eat the oranges. The taste is an indication of their possible love: sweet represents a good fate while sour represents a bad fate.

This day often marks the end of the Chinese New Year festivities.

Red envelopes

Traditionally, Red envelopes or red packets are passed out during the Chinese New Year’s celebrations, from married couples or the elderly to unmarried juniors. It is also common for adults or young couples to give red packets to children.

Red packets almost always contain money, usually varying from a couple of dollars to several hundred. Per custom, the amount of money in the red packets should be of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals. The number 8 is considered lucky (for its homophone for “wealth”), and $8 is commonly found in the red envelopes in the US. The number six is also very lucky as it sounds like ‘smooth’, in the sense of having a smooth year. Sometimes chocolate coins are found in the red packets.

Odd and even numbers are determined by the first digit, rather than the last. Thirty and fifty, for example, are odd numbers, and are thus appropriate as funeral cash gifts. However, it is common and quite acceptable to have cash gifts in a red packet using a single bank note – with ten or fifty yuan bills used frequently. It is customary for the bills to be brand new printed money. Everything regarding the New Year has to be new in order to have good luck and fortune.

The act of requesting for red packets is normal. A married person would not turn down such a request as it would mean that he or she would be “out of luck” in the new year. Red packets are generally given by established married couples to the younger non-married children of the family. It is custom and polite for children to wish elders a happy new year and a year of happiness, health and good fortune before accepting the red envelope. Red envelopes are then kept under the pillow and slept on for seven days after Chinese New Year before opening because it symbolizes good luck and fortune when you sleep on the red envelopes for seven nights.

Music

Happy New Year!” is a popular children’s song for the New Year holiday. The melody is similar to the American folk song, Oh My Darling, Clementine.

  • Chorus:

Happy New Year! Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you all! We are singing; we are dancing. Happy New Year to you all!

Clothing

Clothing mainly featuring the color red or bright colors is commonly worn throughout the Chinese New Year because it was once believed that red could scare away evil spirits and bad fortune. In addition, people typically wear new clothes from head to toe to symbolize a new beginning in the new year. Wearing new clothes also symbolizes having more than enough things to use and wear in the new year. Red is a color of good luck.

Family portrait

Taking family portrait is an important ceremony after the relatives are gathered. The photo is taken at the hall of the house or taken in front of the house. The most senior male head of the family sits in the center.

If you read this far, I hope you enjoyed the read. And, after you celebrate the holidays in the USA at the end of this year, come to China and celebrate all over again.

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