Marking the start of the Chinese Calendar and also known as Chunjie (Spring Festival) in China, the Chinese New Year is also known as Nian (Festival of the Year), Guo Nian (Passing of the Year) and Nongli Xinnian (New Year of the Agricultural Calendar) while Chinese New Year’s Day is known as Yuandan (The first sunrise), Da Nian Chuyi (The first day of the great year) and Nongli Nian Chuyi (The first day of the year in the Agricultural Calendar). It’s very common for Chinese families to gather for an annual reunion dinner called Chuxi (Evening of the passing).
Each year in the Chinese Calendar is themed around one of the twelve horoscopic animals and celebrate all people born in the same year of the twelve-year cycle. The last dates of these years include the Goat (2003), the Monkey (2004), the Rooster (2005), the Dog (2006), the Pig (2007), the Rat (2008), the Ox (2009), the Tiger (2010), the Rabbit (2011), the Dragon (2012), the Snake (2013) and the Horse (this year). Of course it is important to remember that the dates of the Chinese Calendar and the Gregorian Calendar do not coincide completely as the Chinese New Year runs from early February to the following February the next year instead of the 1st of January to the 31st of December the same year, so someone born in January and even early February of the year of an animal could still be within the same year. Likewise, someone born in the January and some dates in early February may not be included in that year of an animal.
According to ancient legend, there once lived a beast called the Nian, which has the powerful body of an Ox, the strong legs of a Unicorn and the head and claws of a Lion. Once a year, the beast would crawl out from under the mountains or beneath the sea and begins to feast upon the crops, animals, villagers and especially children. Every year to avoid being eaten the villagers would leave piles of food on their doors to appease the creature as it wandered nearby. One day, a lone child in red stood in front of the beast and it fled out of fright. Realising that the Nian feared the colour red, the villagers began to hang red decorations all over their town and they set off loud firecrackers causing the beast to flee forever more away from the country. Eventually, the legendary hero and Taoist monk Hongjun Laozu captured the creature and it became his mount.
On both the days before and after the Chinese New Year date, celebrations, preparations and a variety of activities take place. Eight days before the celebrations, Labazhou, a traditional type of porridge, and La 8th Garlic, a type of Pickle, is served to remember an ancient festival called La which occurred around this date. It’s also considered traditional by many families to stick to vegan foods on Chinese New Year’s eve and to reserve garlic and meats for Chinese New Year’s day.
From the 28th of January onwards, families wash their homes under guidance of the Cantonese saying ”Wash away the dirt on ninyabaat” (the 28th day of the twelfth month of the Chinese Calendar). It is believed that this cleaning helps to sweep away the bad luck of the last year and prepares the home for good luck, although on the first day of the New Year, dustpans and brooms are put away so that the good luck cannot be swept away.
A few days before the start of Chinese New Year, it is traditional to decorate the house in red and paint the doors and window-frame with fresh red paint as a reference to the myth of the origin of Chinese New Year. Additionally, it is traditional to purchase new clothing, shoes and to get a haircut before the start of the New Year, to symbolize a fresh start. Businesses are expected to pay their debts back before the start of the New Year too and it is common for people to send gifts and food to close friends and extended family members as a note of gratitude and good fortune.
The First Day of the New Year is celebrated to welcome the deities of the heavens and earth with fireworks let off, firecrackers being set off and bamboo sticks being burnt from midnight onwards. This is supposedly to scare away evil spirits of the Nian called the Guo Nian. Some families consider lighting fires and using knives to be bad luck on New Year’s day, which means all food must be eaten before this date. Many people traditionally do not eat meat on the first day as well, believing that this will extend their lifespan.
The First Day of the Chinese New Year is also reserved to honour the family’s elders and so the most senior and oldest members of the family are visited on this day. It’s also common to invite a Lion Dance Troupe for symbolic ritualism to help bring about the Chinese New Year and to drive out evil spirits from the area. It’s also tradition for married members of the family to give red packets called Lai See containing money to more junior members and to children of the family, in an attempt to reduce aging and to help them overcome the challenges of the coming year. Employers also traditionally give these red packets to their employees for the same reasons.
On the Second Day of the Chinese New Year, married daughters are supposed to visit their birth parents and relatives, as well as close friends as traditionally they weren’t able to do this so frequently, although now it is commonplace. Cantonese businesspeople also hold a Hoi Nin prayer before starting business on the second day, hoping for good luck and prosperity throughout the following year. Many people who worship Che Kung, a Hong Kong deity, go to his temples to pray for blessing due to the day believed to be his birthday, a city representative also requests to know the city’s fortune from him at the temple too. Finally, the second day is believed to be the birthday of all dogs and as such they are given special treats on this day.
Known as Chikou, or Red Mouth, the Third Day sees more rural villages burn paper offerings to Chigou, the God of Blazing Wrath. It is considered unlucky to have guests or to visit anyone on this day. It’s also considered a good idea to visit the temple of the God of Wealth and to have one’s fortune read on this day. On the Fourth Day, many corporate Spring Dinners occur and business begins to return to regular work hours. The Fifth Day sees people eating Jiaozi, a type of dumpings, on Powu, the God of Wealth’s Birthday. Also, it’s common to let off firecrackers to get the attention of Guan Yu, legendary historical General of Liu Bei, in an attempt to gain his favour for better fortune that year. In Taiwan business open on the Sixth Day and this is followed with firecrackers being released.
The Seventh Day is known as Renri, the common person’s birthday, and it is considered that everyone grows one year older on this day. In many overseas Chinese communities in South East Asia such as Singapore and Malasia, Yusheng, a type of raw fish salad, is eaten and believed to propagate prosperity. Chinese Buddhists avoid eating meat on this day and commemorate the birth of Sakra, lord of all Devas, also believed to be the mythological Chinese Jade Emperor.
On the Eighth Day families celebrate the birth of the Jade Emperor with a family meal and people tend to return to work on this day, although, Store Owners traditionally hold a lunch with their employees to thank them for their diligence throughout the year. Just before midnight, Hokkien people in China and Singapore prepare for Bai Ti Gong, an ancient ritual, which sees food offerings, often sugarcane, to the Jade Emperor and to Zao Jun, the Kitchen God, while incense is burnt. Many people hold a ritual prayer shortly after midnight and in Malaysia, fireworks are let off.
More prayers are held to the Jade Emperor by Daoists on the Ninth Day as they believe this is his birthday. Taiwanese people also set up a three-layer altar table. The top layer contains six vegetables, noodles, fruits, cakes, unripe betal leaves and Tangyuan (rice flour balls in boiling water) as well as a range of paper decorations whilst the two lower levels contain a range of wines and five sacrifices. This arrangement is to appease the Jade Emperor on the top and the deities below him, the household also kneels three times and prostrates themselves nine times, wishing the deities and the Jade Emperor a long life, gold paper, fruit, incense, tea and roast pig or vegetarian food are also served. The Tenth Day also sees the Jade Emperor’s birthday celebrated on this day. The Eleventh and Twelfth Days are not celebrated specially.
Only pure vegetarian food is consumed on the Thirteenth Day believing that it cleans the stomach out from the large quantity of food consumed for the two weeks before. The day is also used to remember and pray to General Guan Yu of Liu Bei as the greatest general in all of Chinese history, due to his high amount of victories (numbering over a hundred) in battle, many people look to him as the God of Success. The Fourteenth Day is not celebrated specially.
Finally, the Fifteenth Day sees the Yuanxiaoje (Lantern Festival), also known as Shangyuanjie and Chap Goh May. Tangyuan are consumed on this day and candles are lit to help guide wayward spirits home, it’s also common for people, especially children, to walk the streets carrying lit lanterns on this day. This day also sees the Malaysian and Singaporean versions of Valentine’s Day as individuals seek a love partner, traditionally single women write their contact number on mandarin oranges and throw them in a river and single men would collect the orange and eat it, the taste being an indication of the status of a possible relationship. This day finally marks the end of the Chinese New Year’s festivities.
So marking the start of your Chinese New Year, do you believe in luck? How about considering changing your fortunes with a quick look at our jobs in China? Who knows, you may even find a suitable position in Asia where you can experience Chinese New Year come next year!