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Traditional Chinese New Year Practices
In the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Chinese discovered that loud noise could be produced by inserting gunpowder into the hollow of a bamboo stick and then throwing it into a fire. This led to the invention of firecrackers. Later, paper tubes came to replace the use of bamboo stalks. Wrapped in red paper, a lucky color in China, firecrackers were popularized to enhance celebrations such as Chinese New Year. The red paper is left around for at least a day after releasing the firecrackers, so as not to rid any of the good fortunes it has brought.
Firecrackers are one of the traditional Chinese New Year practices, however, the time to use them varies from each region. Many families will release firecrackers before the traditional Chinese New Year’s Eve reunion dinner to invite ancestors into the celebration of the festival. It is also used to bring joy and create an ecstatic atmosphere for the celebration. Others will release firecrackers at midnight on New Year’s Day – after the reunion dinner – as it is thought to scare away evil spirits and celebrate the coming of the New Year. In some places, families will set off firecrackers on the morning of New Year’s Day before leaving the home, as it is thought to bring prosperity for the whole year. People will also release firecrackers on the day of the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the celebration of Chinese New Year, to ward off misfortune and bring good luck.
The red envelopes – 红包 hongbao in Mandarin and 利是 laishi or laisee in Cantonese – contain money and are typically given to children as traditional Chinese New Year gifts. In China, the money in the envelope is referred to as 压岁钱 yasui qian which “means money suppressing evil spirits.” As such, it is said that receivers of red envelopes are wished another safe and peaceful year.
It is a tradition that people that have started earning money give red envelopes during Chinese New Year, as it is considered a way to share your blessings. However, there is a custom that those who are not married need not send red envelopes to others. The color red is regarded as a symbol of happiness and good fortune in Chinese culture. As such, wrapping lucky money in red envelopes is a way to bestow more happiness and blessings on the receiver.
The origin of spring couplets can be dated back to 1,000 years ago when people would hang 桃符 “tao fu” – written charms on peach wood – on doors. Legend suggests that there was a huge peach tree which stretched across 1,500 kilometers on a mountain in the ghost world. To the northeast of this tree, two guards named Shentu and Yulei guarded the entrance to this ghost world. It was believed that hanging a piece of peach wood with the names of these guards inscribed on doors would scare the evil spirits away.
By the Song Dynasty (960-1279), people began to write two auspicious lines on the peach wood instead of the names of the two guards. The peach wood was later replaced by red paper, which symbolizes good fortune and happiness. Since then, it has been a traditional Chinese New Year practice to paste spring couplets on doors to bring in good fortune for the New Year and express best wishes.
In the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), the first Chinese lanterns were invented to use as lamps and for the worship of the Buddha. By the Tang Dynasty, lanterns were popularized – in particular for the celebration of festivals – and became a symbol of national pride in China.
Chinese lanterns are typically red, oval-shaped and decorated with red or golden tassels, however, these lanterns also come in various shapes such as square, oblong and spherical. Lanterns are hung in both homes and public spaces during Chinese New Year, as it is said to ward away evil spirits and bring in good fortune. In cities and rural areas, you can also see lanterns adorning streetlights, public buildings and local shops.
Bob Jagendorf The Lion Dance is a traditional Chinese dance which is performed at celebrations such as Chinese New Year for prosperity and good fortune, as the lion is believed to be an auspicious animal. Before the Han Dynasty, only a few lions were seen in the Central Plains from the western area of ancient China (now Xinjiang) due to the Silk Road trade. During this era, people mimicked the actions and appearance of the newly arrived lions in a performance, which developed into the lion dance.
The lion dance is performed in a lion costume and accompanied by an arrangement of drums, cymbals and gongs. During the celebration of Chinese New Year, lion dances will be performed in front of houses and shops of Asian communities to offer the traditional custom of 採青 cai qing, which translates to “plucking the greens.” The lion plucks the auspicious green lettuce either hung on a pole or placed on a table in front of the premises. The “greens” (青 qing) are bound with a red envelope containing money as a gift to the lion dance troupe and may also be bound with auspicious fruits like oranges. In Chinese, 採 cǎi, which means pluck, also sounds like 财 cái, which means fortune.
Why Lunar New Year typically prompts the world’s largest annual migration
Observed by billions of people, the festival also known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is marked by themes of reunion and hope.
Celebrated around the world, it usually prompts the planet’s largest annual migration of people. And though it is known to some in the West as Chinese New Year, it isn’t just celebrated in China. Lunar New Year, which falls this year on Friday, February 12, is traditionally a time for family reunions, plenty of food, and some very loud celebrations—although festivities are sure to look different this year amid the pandemic.
Modern China actually uses a Gregorian calendar like most of the rest of the world. Its holidays, however, are governed by its traditional lunisolar calendar, which may have been in use from as early as the 21st century B.C. When the newly founded Republic of China officially adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1912, its leaders rebranded the observation of the Lunar New Year as Spring Festival, as it is known in China today.
As its name suggests, the date of the lunar new year depends on the phase of the moon and varies from year to year. Today, Spring Festival is celebrated in China and Hong Kong Lunar New Year is also celebrated in South Korea, Tibet, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and places with large Chinese populations. Though the festival varies by country, it is dominated by themes of reunion and hope.
For Chinese people, Spring Festival lasts for 40 days and has multiple sub-festivals and rituals. The New Year itself is a seven-day-long state holiday, and on the eve of the new year, Chinese families traditionally celebrate with a massive reunion dinner. Considered the year’s most important meal, it is traditionally held in the house of the most senior family member.
The holiday may be getting more modern, but millennia-old traditions are still held dear in China and other countries. In China, people customarily light firecrackers, which are thought to chase away the fearful monster Nian. (However, the tradition has been on the decline in recent years due to air pollution restrictions that have hit the fireworks industry hard.) The color red is used in clothing and decorations to ensure prosperity, and people exchange hongbao, red envelopes filled with lucky cash. In Korea, people make rice cake soup and honor their ancestors during Seollal. And during Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, flowers play an important role in the celebrations.
Lunar New Year has even spawned its own form of travel: During chunyun, or spring migration, hundreds of million people travel to their hometowns in China for family reunions and New Year’s celebrations. In past years, billions of travelers have taken to the road during the 40-day period. Known as the world’s largest human migration, chunyun regularly clogs already busy roads, trains and airports.
But this year, the pandemic has stifled the festive tradition. The Chinese government has issued guidance restricting non-essential travel and encouraging people to celebrate the new year at home. Those who do travel must take COVID tests and quarantine once they reach their destinations. China’s transportation ministry estimates that just 1.15 billion people, less than half of the 2019 number, will travel during Spring Festival. The restrictions unleashed a firestorm of criticism from people who had been looking forward to spending the festival with their families—proof of the holiday’s enduring significance for those who associate it with luck and love.
Jumat, 05 Februari 2016
2300 BC). At the beginning, the date of celebration varied from mid-winter to early spring. With the maturity of the solar base calendar, Emperor Wu (157 BC - 87 BC) of the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220), established the first day of the first month as the beginning of the year, where it remains.
The following is a brief list: Emperor Yao and Emperor Shun (
2300 BC): small scale New Year celebration type of activities. Shang Dynasty (1766 BC - 1122 BC): New Year celebration started from religious ceremony. Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220): New Year celebration is official at the first day of the first month and crack bamboo appeared. (Crack bamboo will create loud cracking sound when put on fire. It is believed that the sound drives away evil.) Wei Dynasty (220 - 265) and Jin Dynasty (265 - 420): Fireworks used in New Year celebration. The tradition of Shou Sui formed. Song Dynasty (960 - 1279): Fireworks using gun powder began. According to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the "Year". The "Year" looks like an ox with a lion head and inhabits in the sea. At the night of New Year's Eve, the "Year" will come out to harm people, animals, and properties. Later, people found that the "Year" fears the color red, fire, and loud sounds. Therefore, for self-protection, people formed the habit of posting red Dui Lian in front of their house as well as launching fireworks, and hanging lanterns at year end. New Year's Eve Dinner The New Year's Eve dinner is the most important dinner for the Chinese. Normally, this is the family reunion dinner, especially for those with family members away from home. During the dinner, normally fish will be served. Dumplings are the most important dish in Northern China. These two dishes signify prosperity. Other dishes are dependent on personal preference. The majority of Chinese will have New Year's Eve dinner at home instead of a restaurant. Fireworks Fireworks are used to drive away the evil in China. Right after 12:00PM on New Year's Eve, fireworks will be launched to celebrate the coming of the New Year as well as to drive away the evil. It is believed that the person who launched the first firework of the New Year will obtain good luck. Shou Sui Shou Sui means "after the New Year's Eve dinner" as family members will normally stay awake during the night. Some people just stay up until the midnight after the fireworks. According to tales and legends, there was a mythical beast named the "Year". At the night of New Year's Eve, the "Year" will come out to harm people, animals, and proprieties. Later, people found that the "Year" is afraid of the color red, fire, and loud sounds. Therefore, at the New Year's Eve night, people will launch fireworks, light fires, and stay awake the whole night to fend off the "Year". Red Packets The Red packet is a red envelope with money in it, which ranges from one to a few thousand Chinese Yuan. Usually the red racket is given by adults, especially married couples, and elderly to young children in the New Year days. It was believed that the money in the red packet will suppress the evil from the children, keep them healthy, and give them a long life. New Year Markets In the course of the New Year's days, a temporary market will be setup to mainly selling New Year goods, such as clothing, fireworks, decorations, food, and small arts. The market is usually decorated with a large amount of lanterns. Small Year Small year is the 23th or 24th of the last month of the year. It is said that this is the day the food god will leave the family in order to go to heaven and report the activity of family to the Emperor of the heaven. People will follow religious ceremony to say farewell to the food god, including taking down and burning the paint of the food god. After the New Year's Day, people will buy new paint of the food god and display it in the kitchen. Cleaning A few days before the Chinese New Year, people will do a complete cleaning of the house and house wares which signifies to remove the old and welcome the new. Historically, when bathing did not occur often, people would normally take one to welcome the New Year. Decoration After the cleaning, people will decorate the house to welcome the New Year. Most of the decorations are red in color. The most popular New Year decorations are upside down fu, dui lian, lanterns, year paint, papercutting, door gods, etc.
Lunar New Year
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Lunar New Year, Chinese Chunjie, Vietnamese Tet, Korean Solnal, Tibetan Losar, also called Spring Festival, festival typically celebrated in China and other Asian countries that begins with the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ends on the first full moon of the lunar calendar, 15 days later. The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, so the dates of the holiday vary slightly from year to year, beginning some time between January 21 and February 20 according to Western calendars. Approximately 10 days before the beginning of the new lunar year, houses are thoroughly cleaned to remove any bad luck that might be lingering inside, a custom called “sweeping of the grounds.” Traditionally, New Year’s eve and New Year’s day are reserved for family celebrations, including religious ceremonies honouring ancestors. Also on New Year’s day, family members receive red envelopes (lai see) containing small amounts of money. Dances and fireworks are prevalent throughout the holidays, culminating in the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated on the last day of the New Year’s celebrations. On this night colourful lanterns light up the houses, and traditional foods such as yuanxiao (sticky rice balls that symbolize family unity), fagao (prosperity cake), and yusheng (raw fish and vegetable salad) are served.
The origins of the Lunar New Year festival are thousands of years old and are steeped in legends. One legend is that of Nian, a hideous beast believed to feast on human flesh on New Year’s day. Because Nian feared the colour red, loud noises, and fire, red paper decorations were pasted to doors, lanterns were burned all night, and firecrackers were lit to frighten the beast away.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.
Truly the largest celebration of its kind in the world
In 1847, San Francisco was a sleepy little village known as Yerba Buena with a population of 459. With the discovery of gold and the ensuing California Gold Rush, by 1849, over 50,000 people had come to San Francisco to seek their fortune or just a better way of life. Among those were many Chinese, who had come to work in the gold mines and on the railroad. By the 1860’s, the Chinese were eager to share their culture with those who were unfamiliar with it. They chose to showcase their culture by using a favorite American tradition – the Parade. Nothing like it had ever been done in their native China. They invited a variety of other groups from the city to participate, and they marched down what today are Grant Avenue and Kearny Street carrying colorful flags, banners, lanterns, and drums and firecrackers to drive away evil spirits.
Since 1958, the Parade has been under the direction of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. At that time, it was moved from the afternoon to the evening so as not to compete with the very popular Miss Chinatown U.S.A. contest. The Parade remained a local community activity along Grant Avenue until the mid 1970’s, when the fire department and ever growing crowds dictated that the Parade route be moved to wider streets.
When KTVU, Channel 2, started televising the Parade in 1987, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce realized that although the Parade would still represent the community, its growth would demand a commitment to higher quality and corporate sponsorship involvement. The Chinese New Year celebration was expanded to a two week Festival including a Flower Market Fair and Community Fair.
Today, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade is the largest celebration of its kind in the world, attracting over three million spectators and television viewers throughout the U.S., Canada, and Asia with the help of both KTVU/Fox 2 and KTSF, Channel 26 (Chinese broadcast).
The parade still welcomes a variety of other groups to join in the march, and still hopes to educate, enrich and entertain its audience with the colorful pageantry of Chinese culture and tradition. In order to retain the integrity of the Parade, participants are asked to tie their float or specialty unit to a Chinese cultural theme. We are honored and delighted to have representatives from other Asian cultures participating in this year’s festivities.
A Brief History of Lunar New Year
Chinese celebrations marking the start of the Lunar New Year last a fortnight, during which revellers paint the town red – quite literally – for 15 days of feasts, firecrackers and festivals. Why? Culture Trip explores the origins of this tradition as we ring in the Year of the Pig.
Unlike the fixed new year of the Gregorian calendar on 1 January, the new Lunar New Year is celebrated on a variable date somewhere between late January and early February, determined by the appearance of the new moon. In China, where the holiday is also called Spring Festival, the holiday can be traced as far back as the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC).
What are the origins of Lunar New Year?
It’s hard to know how people celebrated during the Shang Dynasty, but it is widely accepted that sacrificial gifts to gods and ancestors were involved. Similar practices continued through the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC) when the term ‘Nian‘ first appears in historic records. Nian (年獸) is a lion-like beast, but the name also means ‘new year’, and many of the ways in which the new year is now celebrated can be traced back to stories about it.
According to folklore, Nian would rise from the sea each year to devour people and livestock. Fearful of becoming a tasty snack, people used to hide until one man made a life-changing observation: Nian, despite its sharp teeth and hearty appetite, was terrified of loud sounds and the colour red. It is for this reason that fireworks and the colour red feature so heavily in the celebration of Chinese New Year. Lion dances, often featuring loud noises, also mimic how Nian was driven back into the sea.
In the Han Dynasty (202 BC–AD 220), yearly celebrations became fixed to the beginning of the new lunar cycle. Ever since, the holiday has been celebrated according to a 12-moon cycle.
How is Lunar New Year celebrated?
Early celebrations emphasised the importance of family, and the tradition continues today. People give offerings to ancestors and gods, often in the form of food and money. These offerings are expected to ensure a good new year and might even involve a little bribery.
In some homes, the lips on images of the Kitchen God (灶君) are rubbed with honey before the new year. This is done so he only has sweet things to report to the Jade Emperor (玉皇) – the principal deity – about the family’s behaviour.
Homes and cities are also given a nice scrub and adorned with red lanterns and auspicious floral arrangements and decorations, all of which is meant to scare off Nian and usher in prosperity and good fortune for the new year.
Children and unmarried adults will enjoy more immediate fortune in the form of red packets filled with money. These red packets (紅包, hóngbāo) are given by parents, elders and employers to ensure safety and comfort in the new year. Denominations vary according to the relationship with the recipient. The practice has even modernised for the 21st century, with WeChat offering an option to purchase and distribute electronic packets.
Why do so many people travel for Lunar New Year?
In China, festivities for Lunar New Year last 15 days, each of which has a specific set of traditions. One such practice is a homecoming prior to the first day of the Lunar New Year. So many revellers return to hometowns for the holiday that it has been dubbed ‘the world’s largest annual human migration’.
The strain on China’s transport systems has steadily grown since the 1980s, when much of the country’s rural youth moved to larger cities for employment opportunities. Because homecoming and reconnecting with family members for the new year is so central to the holiday, train stations, airports and motorways are jammed during the season.
This isn’t much different from the travel westerners undertake during the Christmas season, but the sheer number of people who celebrate the holiday often elicits sensational headlines.
What is significant about Lunar New Year foods?
As everyone knows, going home to visit family often involves almost eating yourself into a food coma, and the new year is no exception. Though traditional foods vary from region to region – China boasts eight regional cuisines – many of the foods eaten for Lunar New Year find their place at the table for symbolic reasons.
Dishes with fish are a must for the new year table, because the name for fish (魚, yú) is a homophone for the word for abundance or surplus (余, yú). Eating fish is meant to ensure that abundance will carry into the new year.
Other dishes, like jiaozi (dumplings), are served in Northern China because of their appearance. Depending on the means of preparation, jiaozi can be made to look like silver ingots or gold bars, and eating them is meant to usher in wealth for the new year. Similarly, dried scallops are eaten because they look like Chinese coins.
What are the animals of the Chinese Zodiac?
Each Lunar New Year is aligned with one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. The order of the cycle – dictated by the results of a mythological race set by the Jade Emperor – is: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. People born in each of these years are understood to share traits associated with their zodiac animal. For example, 2019 marks the end of the 12-year lunar cycle with celebrations for the Year of the Pig. As people born in pig years are expected to have easy-going temperaments and uncomplicated lives, pig years often result in a baby boom.
Many countries in East and South East Asia also observe the importance of these animals, making the name ‘Chinese Zodiac’ a bit of a misnomer. While some of these countries share China’s traditions, Lunar New Year celebrations outside of China are distinctly different.
Which other countries celebrate Lunar New Year?
The holiday is celebrated across the Asia-Pacific region, and diaspora communities around the world mean that there are Lunar New Year festivities in most major cities around the world London’s Chinese New Year parade boasts the largest festival outside of Asia.
Though the varied celebrations of Lunar New Year are often lumped together under the Chinese New Year moniker, many of these countries have their own name and celebrations for the holiday. In Korea, the Lunar New Year is observed as Seollal, Tết is celebrated in Vietnam – where the year of the cat is observed in place of the rabbit – and in Mongolia, the holiday is called Tsagaan Sar. In Japan, the holiday is no longer celebrated in conjunction with the lunar cycle, but on 1 January – a result of westernisation during the Meiji Empire.
Regardless of how or where it is celebrated, Lunar New Year is a time to reconnect with family, share gifts, eat (and drink) too much and enjoy the possibilities that the new year will bring.
Chinese New Year Customs
As it marks the start of the calendar year, the new year celebration is also associated with a fresh start in Chinese culture. Because of this, it is important to expel negative energy before it starts. In preparation for the new beginning, tasks like cleaning, removing unwanted things, remodeling, and refurnishing are best done before the new year. Dressing oneself in new clothes and new shoes is also customary on new year's day.
One of the most common and important customs of Chinese New Year involves the hanging of Spring Couplets on the front door of dwellings. A couplet is a Chinese form of poetry that features 2 written lines which must adhere to certain rules.
In general, the two lines should be related, but antithetical in meaning. The Spring couplet is always illustrated with gold or black calligraphy on a red scroll, with each line of the couplet occupying a separate scroll pasted or hung on either side of the doorway.
In Chinese and many East Asian societies, it is customary to bestow a red envelope containing a monetary gift to a recipient during an auspicious event or holiday.
The color red symbolizes good luck in Chinese culture and is believed to ward off evil spirits. During Chinese New Year, these envelopes are typically gifted to the young and unmarried, who are viewed as the next generation.
A spring couplet hangs on the doors of a home in China.
Browse our store for decorative items featuring Chinese calligraphy art.
Year of the Ox
The ox is the second of all the zodiac animals. According to legend, the order of the zodiac animals was determined by the Jade Emperor according to the order in which they arrived to his party. In ancient China, the ox was a highly valued animal due to its role in agriculture and plowing the fields. Its positive characteristics include being hardworking and honest.
People born in the year of the ox are believed to be honest and earnest. They rarely lose their temper or seek to be the center of attention. They are thought to be among the best leaders.
How New Year's resolutions shifted over time
This cartoon by artist Rea Irvin depicts two families celebrating New Year's Eve. The 1867 panel shows a proper Victorian family -- father, mother and little girl -- in their parlor, taking tea. The 1917 panel shows a riotous party in a restaurant with champagne corks popping, a man dancing on the table, two men playing leapfrog, and a heavy lady in a strapless dress drinking champagne.
Rea Irvin/Library of Congress
Today, more than 5,000 years since the earliest known New Year celebration, humans still promise to enter the New Year with better conduct, whether they promise to eat more healthily, exercise more, pay off debt, pray more, drink less, quit smoking, work harder or improve relationships.
New Year's resolutions have always been about getting better, but as for when the shift from religious to nonreligious resolutions happened, Terry says "there's no hard date." Most historians agree that this transition happened during the post-Enlightenment era around the late 18th century, he says, when people may have started resolving to work harder, earn more money and things of that nature.
What we do know is that resolutions have changed with the needs of societies, Terry says.
"Ancient civilizations would pray for harvest or a sin-free life, but modern resolutions are now a projection of a society that does not have the same extreme needs from the past," he says. "We now live in a period of surplus and excess, so our resolutions have become simpler, secular and more individualized."
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.