Chinese New Year (simplified Chinese: 农历新年; traditional Chinese: 農曆新年; pinyin: Nónglì xīnnián; literally: “Agrarian Calendar New Year”) or Spring Festival (simplified Chinese: 春节; traditional Chinese: 春節; pinyin: Chūnjié)
According to legend, in ancient China, the Nián (年) was a man-eating beast from the mountains (in other versions from under the sea), which came out every 12 months somewhere close to winter to prey on humans. The people later believed that the Nian was sensitive to loud noises and the colour red, so they scared it away with explosions, fireworks and the liberal use of the colour red. These customs led to the first New Year celebrations. Guò nián (simplified Chinese: 过年; traditional Chinese: 過年), which means to celebrate the new year, literally means the passover of the Nian.
B4 NEW YEAR
On the days before the New Year celebration Chinese families give their home a thorough cleaning. There is a Cantonese saying “Wash away the dirts on ninyibaat” (年廿八，洗邋遢), but the practice is not usually restricted on ninyibaat(年二八, the 28th day of month 12). 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 luck cannot be swept away. Some people give their homes, doors and window-panes a new coat of red paint. Homes are often decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets. Purchasing new clothing, shoes and receiving a hair-cut also symbolize a fresh start (though, as described below, it may be considered bad luck among some.)
The first day is for the welcoming of the deities of the heavens and earth. 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 day before.
Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time when families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended family, usually their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.
Some families may invite a lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Lunar New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises. Members of the family who are married also give red packets containing cash to junior members of the family, mostly children and teenagers.
The seventh day, traditionally known as renri 人日, the common man’s birthday, the day when everyone grows one year older.
It is the day when tossed raw fish salad, yusheng, is eaten. People get together to toss the colourful salad and make wishes for continued wealth and prosperity.
For many Chinese Buddhists, this is another day to avoid meat.
The fifteenth day of the new year is celebrated as Yuánxiāo jié (元宵节), otherwise known as Chap Goh Mei in Fujian dialect. Rice dumplingsTangyuan (simplified Chinese: 汤圆; traditional Chinese: 湯圓; pinyin: tāngyuán), a sweet glutinous rice ball brewed in a soup, is 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.
This day often marks the end of the Chinese New Year festivities.
1. It is common for adults to give red packets to children. Red packets are also known as 壓歲錢/压岁钱 (Ya Sui Qian, which was evolved from 壓祟錢/压祟钱, literally, the money used to suppress or put down the evil spirit ) during this period.
2. The amount of money in the red packets should be of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals (帛金 : Bai Jin). Since the number 4 is considered bad luck, because the word for four is a homophone for death, money in the red envelopes never adds up to $4. However, the number 8 is considered lucky (for its homophone for “wealth”), and $8 is commonly found in the red envelopes. Sometimes chocolate coins are found in the red packets.
3. Clothing mainly featuring the colour red is commonly worn throughout the Chinese New Year because it is believed that red will 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.
4. Shou Sui 守岁(守歲) (Shou Sui) occurs when members of the family gather around throughout the night after the reunion dinner and reminisce about the year that has passed while welcoming the year that has arrived. Some believe that children who Shou Sui will increase the longevity of the parents.
一夜连双岁，五更分二年 means that the night of New Year’s eve (which is also the morning of the first day of the New Year) is a night that links two years. 五更 (Wu Geng — the double hour from 0300 to 0500) is the time that separates the two years.
5. Good luck
– Opening windows and/or doors is considered to bring in the good luck of the new year.
– Switching on the lights for the night is considered good luck to ‘scare away’ ghosts and spirits of misfortune that may compromise the luck and fortune of the new year.
– Sweets are eaten to ensure the consumer a “sweet” year.
– It is important to have the house completely clean from top to bottom before New Year’s Day for good luck in the coming year. (however, as explained below, cleaning the house after New Year’s Day is frowned upon)
– Some believe that what happens on the first day of the new year reflects the rest of the year to come. Asians will often gamble at the beginning of the year, hoping to get luck and prosperity.
– Wearing a new pair of slippers that is bought before the new year, because it means to step on the people who gossip about you.
– The night before the new year, bathe yourself in pomelo leaves and some say that you will be healthy for the rest of the new year.
6. Bad luck
– Buying a pair of shoes is considered bad luck amongst some Chinese. The word “shoes” is a homophone for the word for “rough” in Cantonese, or “evil” in Mandarin.
– Washing your hair is also considered to be washing away one’s own luck (although modern hygienic concerns take precedence over this tradition)
– Sweeping the floor is usually forbidden on the first day, as it will sweep away the good fortune and luck for the new year.
– Talking about death is inappropriate for the first few days of Chinese New Year, as it is considered inauspicious as well.
– Buying books is bad luck because the word for “book” is a homonym to the word “lose”.
– Avoid clothes in black and white, as black is a symbol of bad luck, and white is a traditional funeral colour.