The Lunar New Year is also known as the Chinese New Year and the Spring Festival. The New Year begins at the first new moon of the Year and ends on the first full moon of the calendar year. Spring Festival dates are based on the lunar cycle, and celebration dates vary yearly. Typically the New Year falls from mid-January to mid-February.
The Legend Behind the Celebration
The Chinese New Year celebrations are tied to the wild beast Nian. Nian appeared at the end of the calendar year, causing havoc by attacking villages and eating villagers. Nian was believed to fear the color red, fire, and loud noises, so villagers began pasting red paper to doors, hanging red lanterns to burn through the night, and fireworks were lit to scare Nian away. Today, these ancient customs are apart of the 15 day celebration, with fireworks held the evening before the first day of the Lunar New Year.
The Kitchen God
Preparation for the Lunar New Year begins well before the 15 day celebration. Books are put in balance, debts are paid off, collection on loans occur. Individually, it is a time of inner-reflection...looking back at the misfortunes and failures of their individual year. For others, it is time to reconnect with old friends, renew friendships, and to talk out issues that might prohibit good relations in the future.
Ten days before the beginning of the Lunar New Year, homes are thoroughly cleaned to
remove any bad luck that may linger in the home. This custom is called the Sweeping of the Grounds. This date honors the leaving of the Kitchen God, also known as the God of the Hearth, off to heaven to make a report to the Jade Emperor. Families do not want to dishonor or offend the Kitchen God and so they wait until this date to begin cleaning.
The Kitchen God holds a honored space of the hearth of a home. An image or beautiful calligraphy is placed on the hearth, where the Kitchen God can watch the comings and going's of the family. Have they been generous to the less fortunate? Had they wasted food? If the family pleased the Kitchen God, it might earn them a favor from the Jade Emperor. Pleasing the Kitchen God also means making offerings of pastry, wine, and/or honey. In fact, some would wipe his lips with honey to help him only say sweet things about the family. Once these offerings were done at the end of the year, the image of the Kitchen God was burned and he began his journey, returning on New Year's Day.
In the past, this was more like a "spring cleansing" of the home, so bright, optimistic attitudes and perspectives could influence the incoming New Year energy. While a deep cleaning is still honored, because this time of year is so heavily family oriented, it is like our Thanksgiving or Christmas, the house is also being deep cleaned to welcome family members into good energy as well.
There are traditional gifts given during the Lunar New Year. Flowers to brighten the home...wax plum, white jonquil, narcissus, small peach trees are all favorite floral gifts.
Woodblock prints of The Kitchen God are also given, a traditional gift for centuries. These prints are put on the hearth on New Year's Day, so the Kitchen God starts the new year with the family.
A tradition we are familiar with in Western society are Red Envelopes. These envelopes are given to children or unmarried children with no job. They always hold a gift of money. Called Hong Bao, everyone shares these envelopes with the children. The red of the envelope is considered a color of good luck & fortune, as well as happiness and abundance.
During the 15 days the Lunar New Year Festival is observed, families rotate between their relatives homes
to celebrate. These festivities can be day-long, meaning that they make two meals, lunch and dinner. Some of the traditional meals to serve include -
Chicken, duck, pork, and pork dishes
Eight Treasures Rice. This includes rice, walnuts, different types of dried fruit, raisins, jujube dates, almonds, and a sweet red bean paste.
Tang Yuan - black sesame rice soup
Won Ton Soup
Song Gao - a cake made of coarsely ground rice made into small round cakes.
New Year's Eve dinner has grown to be a popular time to eat out of the home. In fact, many restaurants have all their tables booked months in advance. Don't want to eat out? Hiring a private chef has also become a popular option.
Festival of Lights
On the fifteenth day of the celebrations, the Festival of Lights is held. This portion of the celebration signifies the end of the New Year Festival.
Over 2,000 years old, the Festival of Lights began in the Western Han Dynasty. Having gone through many different changes over the centuries, this part of the Festival hit the height of popularity in the Ming Dynasty, when it lasted for a month.
Originally, the lights were meant to help citizens spot gods during the Festival. Families would create their own elaborate pattern for their lantern in the hopes to please the gods. In many parts of China there is an emphasis and appreciation for the craftsmanship of the family lanterns.
Some lanterns will have riddles on them, for the enjoyment of children. Depending on where you live, children who answer the riddle correctly can win a small prize, or a special drum will be sounded when they are correct.
.This portion of the New Year Festival is also centered around food and entertaining guests, though on a smaller scale.
The Dragon Dance
The Dragon is a symbol of China and represents wisdom, power, wealth, and to bring good luck. Dragons
are believed to bring rain. Centuries ago during the Han Dynasty, the Dragon Dance began when rain was necessary for crops to grow. They were also performed to protect the crops against insect infestation.
Today, Dragon Dances are held throughout the New Year's Festival. It is believed they chase away evil spirits and to bring good luck to festival goers. In fact, it is considered good luck to be touched by the Dancing Dragon during the Festival.
Enjoy your Chinese New Year! Let us know customs your family may have observed.