Chinese New Year celebrations are used to scare away the mythical wild beast Nien (年, which also is the word for “year”). Legend has it that at the end of each year, Nien appears and pillages human towns and villages. Therefore, loud firecrackers and bright lights are meant to shoo the beast or evil spirits away, and the 15-day New Year festivities have taken roots as the most important of Chinese traditions. According to the lunar calendar, Chinese New Year usually falls in between the end of January and mid-February, and is celebrated in Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, as well as among the Chinese people in Thailand Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, and around the world. Family and friends gather to feast and observe traditional rituals. Listed below are some important customs.
Red Couplets bearing auspicious characters or phrases, as well as red décor such as lanterns, Chinese knots, potted kumquats and golden orange trees adorn every street, storefront and home. The color red is ubiquitous, because it is
associated with wealth and good fortune in Chinese culture. House Cleaning before the Chinese New Year is also customary. Windows are scrubbed, floors are washed and furniture is dusted in preparation for the New Year, ridding the bad luck of the past year. However, dusting is avoided on New Year’s Day, lest that good fortune be swept away.
As the New Year approaches, various activities keep people busy and jolly. New Year’s Markets sell decorations, red envelopes, toys, clothes and trinkets. Families shop, decorate their houses, and wear new clothes on the Chinese New Year. Many people also pray at the Temple on the third day of the New Year.
Red envelopes, called “hong bao 红包 ” in Mandarin, are filled with small or hefty amounts of money and placed underneath pillows of children or unmarried/jobless young adults on the Chinese New Year’s Eve. Hong Bao money is to suppress the Nien (Ya Sui 压岁), while the red color denotes good luck/fortune and happiness/abundance in the Chinese Culture.
The Chinese New Year’s Eve meal “Tuan Yuan Fan 团圆饭,” is the most important dinner of the year. Typically, families gather at a designated relative’s house or a restaurant for dinner on the Chinese New Year’s Eve. During each day of the 15-day celebration, families rotate gatherings in homes of their relatives. Married daughters return to their maternal families on January 2nd of the Lunar Calendar (Hui Niang Jia 回娘家), and the festivities are day-long, with many red envelopes given or received. The traditional foods are:
Eight Treasures Rice (contains glutinous rice, walnuts, different colored dry fruit, raisins, sweet red bean paste, jujube dates, and almonds).
“Tang Yuan” -- black sesame or small glutinous rice ball soup; or a Won Ton soup.
Fish -- The tradition of eating fish during the New Year stems from the fact that the Chinese word for “surplus” or “profit” (余) sounds the same as the word for fish (鱼). Thus, it is believed that eating fish will bring wealth, and every year, there will be surplus wealth/fish (Nian Nian You Yu 年年有余/年年有鱼).
Dumplings are shaped like the old Chinese money Yuan Bao 元宝, and symbolize wealth.
Chicken, Duck, and Pork Dishes.
Mandarin Oranges symbolize good fortune.
“Nian Gao” or “Song Gao”, literally translates to “loose cake”- which is made of rice which has been coarsely ground and then formed into a small, sweet round cake.
As descendants of dragons, Chinese perform Lion or Dragon Dances on the streets with nonstop rhythms of drums and cymbals, firecrackers, and exchanges of “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (恭喜发财 Congratulations on your wealth and prosperity). On the fifth day of the New Year when many people have to return to work, Dancing Dragons/Lions perform in the front of businesses and office buildings to bring good fortune.
The 15th day of the New Year is known as The Lantern Festival “Yuan Xiao Jie” (元宵节), which marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. All types of lanterns are lit throughout the streets; poems and riddles are often written for entertainment. Paper lanterns are also created on wheels in the form of the animal of the year. Lion and Dragon Dances are performed everywhere again to bring the New Year celebrations to a grandiose end, whereas people send their wishes along with the lanterns to the heaven, hoping for a safe and successful new year.