The Chinese New Year Festival: Everything You Need to Know
Chinese New Year is one of the most important holidays in the Chinese calendar. It is a time for families to come together and celebrate, much like Christmas is in the Western world. But what exactly is Chinese New Year, and why is it celebrated? In this article, we will answer these questions and more! We will discuss the history and traditions of Chinese New Year and what to expect during the festival.
Who Celebrates Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year is celebrated by people from all over the world, not just those of Chinese descent. As a matter of fact, this festival is celebrated by over 1.3 billion people worldwide from various Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Korea, Indonesia, Tibet, Mongolia, and parts of Japan.
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When Is Chinese New Year?
Following the lunar calendar, the celebration of Chinese New Year changes every year but usually falls between mid-January and mid-February. Similar to Christmas, Chinese New Year spans over roughly a week. According to the Chinese culture, people begin preparing for the celebration two days before New Year’s Eve and continue the festival throughout the week with different festivities each day.
What Is the History Behind Chinese New Year?
Since ancient times, many cultures have celebrated Chinese New Year when it was a festival marking springtime after winter crops had been harvested and before the summer planting began. Some various rituals and ceremonies took place during this time, but the most popular tradition was ancestor worship. Families would gather together to pray and offer food to various gods as a sign of respect.
In more recent times, Chinese New Year has come to symbolize new beginnings and is celebrated as a way to mark the end of one year cycle and the beginning of another. It is also a time for family reunions, where people from all over the world return home to celebrate with their loved ones.
How Are the Chinese Zodiac Signs Related to the Chinese New Year?
It is a common misconception that Chinese New Year coincides with the beginning of the year for a particular zodiac sign. However, this is not true. The lunar calendar contains sixty different symbols within the five natural elements (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth). Each symbol represents one year. Throughout history, people simplified the signs into twelve cycling animals based on a story of how Buddha summoned all these animals to his palace before he departed from Earth. The animals and the story plot are slightly different in some Buddhist cultures. For example, in Chinese culture, there are the ox and rabbit. But in Vietnam, the buffalo and cat replaced these animals.
How Long Is Chinese New Year?
The Chinese New Year celebration lasts for fifteen days. But according to Chinese culture, the festival begins three days before Chinese New Year on what is referred to as the 28th day. On this day, people are supposed to clean up their homes and themselves as a symbol of getting all bad lucks from the previous year. Schools are usually closed before the 28th day so children can help their parents with housework. The official public holiday usually spans from New Year’s eve to the second day of Chinese New Year. But for many offices, people do not get back to work until the fourth day of Chinese New Year.
What Are Some Traditional Activities During Chinese New Year?
Many traditional activities take place during the Chinese New Year. On New Year’s Eve, families gather at night for a big dinner filled with many traditional dishes with special meanings behind them. Families usually make too much food as a symbol of hoping to have an equal abundance year ahead. The celebration often continues until midnight when everyone shares bowls of round sweet dumplings to signify the family joyfully united for the new year. People who are deep-rooted in Buddhism or simply superstitious will rush to the temple to pray for good luck for the new year.
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On the first day of Chinese New Year, one popular activity is lion and dragon dancing, where performers dress up in lion costumes and parade through the streets. The lions and dragons are believed to bring good luck and health to everyone. Firecrackers and loud noises are common occurrences at these parades as people believe fire and noise can ward off the annual evil spirits from entering their lives.
Another popular tradition is older people handing out red envelopes to younger generations. It is called hóngbāo in Mandarin and laisi (meaning good luck) in Cantonese. These red envelopes usually have greetings on the cover and are filled with money. The amount of cash inside varies depending on the relationship between the giver and receiver, but it is usually a gesture of goodwill, kindness, and love. For adults, individuals visit each other’s homes to exchange gifts and the latest gossip.
What Food Do People Eat on Chinese New Year?
There are many celebratory foods that people eat on Chinese New Year. One of the most popular dishes is a sticky rice cake called Nian Gao in Mandarin or Kueh Bak Atau Kuih Lapis in Malay. The name of this dish literally means “New Year Cake.” As the story goes, an old woman was trying to come up with a way to make her family happy and prosperous for the new year. She eventually decided to make a cake that would be sweet and stick together, symbolizing unity within the family.
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Many types of dumplings are also eaten to symbolize good luck. Dumplings have a shape similar to gold ingots and are considered lucky because the filling usually consists of chopped meat, representing prosperity for the new year. Other celebratory foods include fried rice cakes for increased happiness in life, spring rolls for wealth rolling into your pockets, and noodles that represent longevity.
What Are Some Common Greetings During Chinese New Year?
There are many common greetings that people use during Chinese New Year. In Mandarin, gong xi fa chai is one of the most popular ones as it means “wishing you lots of money.” Gong hei fat choy is another greeting used throughout China but mostly in Cantonese-speaking areas. It means “congratulations and be prosperous.” Many people also use the phrase xin nian kuai le to greet each other. It means happy new year in Chinese.
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