This year Chinese New Year begins on January 23rd and the celebration lasts for fifteen days. We asked our intern Yazmine to dig a little deeper and put together some facts about and traditions associated with this ancient holiday.
The Chinese New Year (Also known as the Spring Festival) is the most important holiday in China. It marks the end of winter, and the start of spring.
Each year is marked with either the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, or pig because in ancient times, it is said Buddha invited all animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Because each twelve of these animals had met with him, he named a year after each of them and deemed that any person born under the corresponding animal year would be born with some of that animal’s personality.
2012 is the year of the dragon – specifically being the water dragon. Dragons symbolize good fortune and intense power, and are seen as divine beasts.
Currently China follows the Gregorian calendar (The same calendar that we use here in the West), with the belief that January 1st marks the first day of the year, but still celebrate New Year at the same time as the Spring Festival as a matter of tradition.
The traditions of Chinese New Year started with a myth about a creature called a Nian, a monster that supposedly ate the crops, livestock, and children of a village. When the village found that loud noises and the color red scared the Nian, it became a tradition to mark the New Year as well as the triumph and success in scaring the Nian away to the point where it never returned.
The main colors that appear during the time of the Spring Festival are red, yellow/gold, and occasionally black. In Chinese culture, red corresponds with good fortune, luck, and joy and it is forbidden to wear the color in times of mourning and funerals, because it traditionally symbolizes happiness. Yellow is considered to be the most beautiful colors of all, and often takes the place of gold. It is worn by emperors and monks, and is thought to be the center of everything. In ancient times, black was regarded as heavens color, and was believed to be the king of all colors. However, most of modern day China treats it how Westerners do; as a color for funerals or to be worn in everyday attire.
For New Year, elders give the younger children red envelopes which carry money, and other gifts are exchanged as well such as fruits (never pears), desserts like chocolate, cake, or biscuits and other small gifts.