In China, you actually get to celebrate New Year twice! Since 1912 China has adopted the Western (Gregorian) calendar, which means that in China people celebrate Chinese traditional New Year as well as New Year’s Day on the first of January. So, clean out the old mess and embrace the spirit of the new year … twice!
Chinese New Year is the most important and also the longest holiday in China. It is a time for family reunion. A time to wipe away the dust of the past year, to forget all grudges and to wish peace and happiness for everyone. It is a fascinating and colorful holiday, wrapped in myths and traditions … and lasts for a total of 15 days! It is also that time of the year where, you might say, a small-sized migration of the nations takes place. All Chinese who migrated for work (and believe us, those are quite numerous) are returning to their hometowns to celebrate new year with their family. It’s the time of red envelopes (红包 – hóngbāo), Chinese New Year cake (年糕 – niángāo), dumplings (餃子- jiǎozi) and noodles (面 – miàn).
Lunar New Year
Chinese New Year is sometimes also referred to as Lunar New Year. Why is that? Well, Chinese New Year starts at the first day of the first month in the traditional Chinese calendar, which is lunisolar. Beginning on the first day of a new moon (the darkest day of the month), Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days and ends with the full moon on the day of the Lantern Festival. So, according to the Gregorian (Western) calendar, when is Chinese New Year exactly? It depends! Since the track of the moon changes, it means that Chinese New Year is celebrated on a different day from year to year. Still, it always falls between the end of January and mid-February.
Now, let’s talk myths!
In the old days (we are talking about Chinese myths here, so old means really ridiculously ancient old!) lived a mythical creature, called the Nian. Every year, on the first day of the new year, Nian would come to the village to eat all livestock, crops and sometimes even villagers, especially children. The people in the village believed that by putting food on their doorsteps, Nian wouldn’t eat people since he already ate enough. One time, people witnessed the Nian being scared away by a child passing by, wearing red clothes. They then realized that Nian is afraid of the color red. That’s why people, since that time, hang red lanterns and spring scrolls on their doorsteps and windows. They also use firecrackers to be absolutely positive to frighten away the Nian.
The Lantern Festival marks the end of Chinese New Year celebrations. On the Lantern Festival, children go to temples at night carrying and solving riddles on red lanterns. It’s the first time of the new year that a bright full moon can be seen in the sky. To show appreciation for this and to honor higher beings who are believed to be responsible for bringing and returning the light each year, people should hang out thousands of colorful lanterns. The origin of the Lantern Festival goes way back! Of course no surprise here, since we are talking about Chinese customs and mythology. The origin legends are numerous, going from worshipping Taiyi, the God of Heaven, over celebrating the birthday of Tianguan, a Taoist god responsible for good fortune and the legend of a village hanging red lanterns on every house to avoid being burned down by the Jade Emperor.
What year is it now? Year of the Dragon!
According to the Gregorian calendar, we are 2012 now (already celebrated on January First). Although traditionally, the Chinese calendar follows the 12-year zodiac cycle and doesn’t use continuously numbered years, some mark the start of the reign of the Yellow Emperor as ‘year 1’. That makes it the year 4710 now! But most importantly, on January 23th we welcome the Year of the Dragon! Down with the old, up with the new!
Occupying the fifth position in the Chinese zodiac, the dragon is the mightiest of them all. It’s a symbol of power, superiority and rule. Since it contains parts of different animals, like the tiger, fish, snake and eagle, the dragon is seen as a powerful almighty king. A dragon zodiac year is a special one. It is a year linked to power and wealth and will be marked by excitement, unpredictability and exhilaration! So … be prepared and enjoy!
HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR!