Chinese New Year Explainer
Chinese New Year ha s crept up on us with it s familiar damp chill, thick hongbao and empty streets. Last year, the ban of noisy, smoky fireworks w as a gods end, although it did feel a lit tle less authentic. If this is your first Chinese New Year in the city, here’s your explainer...
This year, Chinese New Year Day, also known as Spring Festival, falls on 28 January. The date is calculated by the lunar calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar and therefore falls on a different day each year. It is the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar and triggers the biggest annual human migration in the world, as workers return home to their families for the holiday period.
The Mythical Beast
Red is splashed everywhere during this period, with connotations of wealth, good fortune and longevity. The legend surrounding the myth of wearing red involves a mythical beast called the Nian (also meaning year) that would come on the first day of the New Year to eat crops, livestock and villagers. Locals put food
in front of their houses at the beginning of every year in the hope that the Nian would eat the food they prepared and leave without harming anyone or anything else. One year, the villagers saw that the Nian was scared away by a little child wearing red. From that moment on, local residents hung red lanterns and scrolls outside their doors to scare away the beast; a tradition that continues until today. The Nian has long been portrayed as a lion, and the popular Chinese lion dance, seen all over the world, is said to have originated from this story.
The biggest event of the Chinese New Year’s celebrations is the reunion dinner on Chinese New Year’s Eve, usually held at the most senior member of the family’s house. In the North, it is traditional to eat dumplings, which symbolise wealth, while in the South, is it more common to cook niangao, or Chinese New Year cake. More traditional families will visit their local temple a few hours before the New Year begins, to pray, worship their ancestors and light incense. However, the temples can become very full and often an entrance ticket is required to be purchased in advance, so beware. A more recent traditional amongst Chinese households it to watch the famous CCTV New Year’s Gala, jam packed with celebrities and entertainment acts. Family members will also wear new clothes on New Year’s Day to symbolise new beginnings for the coming year.
Hongbao (meaning red envelope) are graciously handed out during this season according to a person’s status. The majority of hongbao are filled with an undisclosed amount of money from the more senior person to their junior - normally from more establish, older or married members of the family to a younger, unmarried members. In addition, gifts of food or sweets are usually exchanged between friends. Don't forget your ayi this Spring Festival!
Chinese Zodiac Signs
The Chinese Zodiac signs are based on a 12-year lunar cycle, with each year relating to a different animal sign. The 12 animals included in the zodiac cycle are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. It is believed that the year of the animal signifies the character of a person born under that zodiac sign.
This year, it is the turn of the rooster, running from 28 January to 15 February 2017. Roosters are said to be devoted and punctual (they crow in the mornings – get it?) as well as being good looking, honest and clever. What a great vintage!
Starting from the Chinese lunar year you were born, every 12 years marks your Chinese Zodiac year, or your benming nian. Unfortunately for those welcoming in their zodiac sign this year, the year of one’s birth sign is believed to be an unlucky period, so those turning 12, 24, 36 etc… years old, watch out! The experts on these matters luckily believe that it once again helps to wear red during this time, to ward off those pesky evil spirits of course. You will see red underwear being sold in mom-and-pops shops, decorated with the rooster zodiac sign, around the city.