Gung Hay Fa Cai!
In China, every girl and boy
Celebrates the New Year
In a very special way
With fireworks and dragons,
Colored red and gold
They welcome the New Year
And chase away the Old!
For over 4,000 years, the people of China have celebrated the Lunar New Year. Dating back to the Shang Dynasty (about 1600–1050 BCE), Chinese New Year is the ultimate of festivals that brings together families, sends off the old year, and rings in the new with a fiery-red bang!
There’s a legend in Chinese folklore that speaks of the nian, or “the year.” In the most popular version of this tale, which we see portrayed in sculpture and in the traditional Chinese lion dance, the nian was a beast with the body of a bull and the head of a lion. It lived and hunted in the mountains through the year, but near the end of winter, when there was no more food, it would descend into the villages and devour whatever it came across.
Eventually, it was discovered (or decided) that this beast was afraid of the color red and loud noises. So people began to display the color red in and on their homes and on their clothing, and they lit fireworks and firecrackers to ward off the beast until springtime.
Shou Sui. Tradition states that in order to make sure that the nian didn’t enter the homes, people would have to stay up all night. Nowadays, the job is left to one person in the family, who often only lasts until midnight—but the gesture is there.
Red Packets. Traditionally given by older, married people to younger, unmarried people for birthdays, weddings, and for the Lunar New Year celebrations, these small red packs contain money and are intended to promise long life for the recipient.
New Year Markets. On New Year’s Day, markets pop up everywhere, supplying all that revelers will need to celebrate with traditional flair. Items include firecrackers and decorations to ward off evil spirits, and traditional foods that will be served with the evening’s meal.
Lantern Festival. Marking the official end of the New Year celebrations, Yuan Xiao (元宵), or Lantern Festival, is celebrated on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. Thought to bring good fortune and cultivate positive relationships between people, these lanterns are adorned with riddles—primarily for children to solve. Their lovely glow brightens up the long, dark, winter nights, harkens back to ancestors long gone, and appeases the gods who control the weather—staving off famine, drought, and pestilence.
As in most celebrations, the meal is a big part of the New Year’s merriments. Traditional Chinese dinners are a main event for the family reunion that comes with the holiday – especially for those who may live far from home. The dinner itself typically includes foods that represent prosperity, such as whole fish, oranges and nectarines, dumplings, as well as long noodles, beans, and leafy greens – long foods mean a long life for those who eat them.
It’s the year of the horse!
Both Western and Chinese zodiac calendars look to twelve beings, or states of being, as representative of a certain time within the stars. Unlike Western ideas, however, an entire year in the Chinese calendar is attributed to one of the twelve, as opposed to the monthly turnaround in the West.
If you were born in 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1942, 1930, or 1918, this year’s for you! Chances are you’re an animated, energetic, and active person who loves to be in a crowd—much like a horse. You learned to be independent at an early age and you always see the glass as half full. You’re also known for your communication skills and your rapier wit.
Want to start speaking Mandarin today? Download Rosetta Stone Mandarin Chinese lessons and start your new year off right!