Chinese New Year, Spring Festival or Lunar New Year is a festival is celebrated for 15 days unlike the western new year. It’s an old traditional festival where it is truly about starting the year fresh and to honor deities and ancestors. This year, 2018 Chinese New Year is celebrated on February the 16th. This year will be the year of the dog.
Often, the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s Day is an occasion for Chinese families to gather for the annual reunion dinner. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly clean the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for incoming good luck. Windows and doors are decorated with red color paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of “good fortune” or “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity”. Other activities include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red paper envelopes. In about one third of the Mainland population, or 500 million Northerners, dumplings (especially those of vegetarian fillings) feature prominently in the meals celebrating the festival.
In a lot of cities in the world on the day of the Chinese New Year this is celebrated with parties, dragon dances and a lot of fireworks. I’ve been to the celebrations in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Den Haag. The New Years I experienced while living in Shanghai had me scream in no time. For two weeks straight fireworks were lit, 24/7. Mooncakes were served every where and there were a hand full of New Years parties in clubs.
In the Gregorian calendar, Chinese Lunar New Year begins at the new moon that falls between 21 January and 20 February. The average date of Chinese New Year’s Day is lichun (立春; literally: “start of spring“) on 4 or 5 February, the solar term next to Dahan ( 大寒; literally: “major cold“). Chinese calendar defines the lunar month with winter solstice as the 11th month, which means that Chinese New Year usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice.
According to tales and legends, the beginning of the Chinese New Year started with a mythical beast called the Nian. Nian would eat children. One year, all the villagers decided to go hide from the beast. An old man appeared before the villagers went into hiding and said that he’s going to stay out and get revenge on the Nian. The old man put red papers up and set off firecrackers. The day after, the villagers came back to their town to see that nothing was destroyed as it had been in years before. They assumed that the old man was a deity who came to save them. The villagers understood that the Nian was afraid of the color red and loud noises. When the next New Year was came around, the villagers would all wear red clothes, hang red lanterns, and red spring scrolls on windows and doors. People also used firecrackers to frighten away the Nian. From then on, Nian never came to the village again. The Nian was eventually captured by Hongjun Laozu, an ancient Taoist monk and became Hongjun Laozu’s mount.
The celebration days
In the days leading up to the new years Chinese will do a series of traditions. The first being the Laba festival, Where family members make Laba garlic pickles and Laba Porridge. The porridge is made at first light by the females in the family and the first bowl is sacrificed to deities and ancestors of the household before every member was served and the left overs were given to relatives and friends. Following right after this families clean their house thoroughly to sweep away the bad luck of the last year and clean and fresh for the luck of the new year. The saying in Cantonese is “Wash away the dirt on nin ya baat” (年廿八，洗邋遢; pinyin: nián niàn bā, xǐ lātà ) but the practice is not restricted to nin ya baat (the 28th day of month 12).
In many households where Buddhism or Taoism is believed, home altars and statues are cleaned thoroughly and decorations used to adorn altars over the year are taken down and burned a week before the new year starts. They will be replaced with new decorations. Taoists (and Buddhists to a lesser extent) will also “send gods back to heaven”, an example would be burning a paper effigy of Zao Jun the Kitchen God, the recorder of family functions. This is done so that the Kitchen God can report to the Jade Emperor of the family household’s transgressions and good deeds. Families often offer sweet foods (such as candy) in order to “bribe” the deities into reporting good things about the family. Brooms and dust pans are put away on the first day so when the new good luck arrives it can’t be sweeped away accidentally.
Homes are often decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese phrases and couplets. Purchasing new clothing and shoes also symbolize a new start. Any hair cuts need to be completed before the New Year, as cutting hair on New Year is considered bad luck due to the homonymic nature of the word “hair” (fa) and the word for “prosperity”. Businesses are expected to pay off all the debts outstanding for the year before the new year eve, extending to debts of gratitude to close business associates and extended family members. It is a common practice to send gifts and rice to them. Prior to the Reunion Dinner, a prayer of thanksgiving is held to mark the safe passage of the previous year. Confucianists take the opportunity to remember their ancestors, and those who had lived before them are revered.
New Year’s Eve
The biggest event of any Chinese New Year’s Eve is the annual Reunion dinner. Dishes consisting of special meats are served at the tables, as a main course for the dinner and offering for the New Year. This meal is comparable to Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S. and remotely similar to Christmas dinner in other countries with a high percentage of Christians.
In northern China, it is customary to make dumplings (jiaozi) after dinner to eat around midnight. Dumplings symbolize wealth because their shape resembles a Chinese sycee. In contrast, in the South, it is customary to make a glutinous new year cake (niangao) and send pieces of it as gifts to relatives and friends in the coming days. Niángāo literally means “new year cake” with a homophonous meaning of “increasingly prosperous year in year out”.
After dinner, some families go to local temples hours before the new year begins to pray for a prosperous new year by lighting the first incense of the year; however in modern practice, many households hold parties and even hold a countdown to the new year. Traditionally, firecrackers were lit to scare away evil spirits with the household doors sealed, not to be reopened until the new morning in a ritual called “opening the door of fortune” (simplified Chinese: 开财门; traditional Chinese: 開財門; pinyin: kāicáimén).
I consulted Wikipedia on the next and there is a lot of information so here’s the copy from Wikipedia
The first day is for the welcoming of the deities of the heavens and earth, officially beginning at midnight. It is a traditional practice to light fireworks, burn bamboo sticks and firecrackers and to make as much of a din as possible to chase off the evil spirits as encapsulated by nian of which the term Guo Nian was derived. Many Buddhists abstain from meat consumption on the first day because it is believed to ensure longevity for them. Some consider lighting fires and using knives to be bad luck on New Year’s Day, so all food to be consumed is cooked the days before. On this day, it is considered bad luck to use the broom, as good fortune is not to be “swept away” symbolically.
Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time to honor one’s elders and families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended families, usually their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
For Buddhists, the first day is also the birthday of Maitreya Bodhisattva (better known as the more familiar Budai Luohan), the Buddha-to-be. People also abstain from killing animals.
Some families may invite a lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Chinese New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises. Members of the family who are married also give red envelopes containing cash known as lai see (Cantonese dialect) or angpow (Hokkien dialect/Fujian), or hongbao (Mandarin), a form of blessings and to suppress the aging and challenges associated with the coming year, to junior members of the family, mostly children and teenagers. Business managers also give bonuses through red packets to employees for good luck, smooth-sailing, good health and wealth.
While fireworks and firecrackers are traditionally very popular, some regions have banned them due to concerns over fire hazards. For this reason, various city governments (e.g., Kowloon, Beijing, Shanghai for a number of years) issued bans over fireworks and firecrackers in certain precincts of the city. As a substitute, large-scale fireworks display have been launched by governments in such city-states as Hong Kong and Singapore. However, it is a tradition that the indigenous people’s of the walled villages of New Territories, Hong Kong are permitted to light firecrackers and launch fireworks in a limited scale.
Incense is burned at the graves of ancestors as part of the offering and prayer ritual.
The second day of the Chinese New Year, known as “beginning of the year” (simplified Chinese: 开年; traditional Chinese: 開年; pinyin: kāinián), was when married daughters visited their birth parents, relatives and close friends. (Traditionally, married daughters didn’t have the opportunity to visit their birth families frequently.)
During the days of imperial China, “beggars and other unemployed people circulate[d] from family to family, carrying a picture [of the God of Wealth] shouting, “Cai Shen dao!” [The God of Wealth has come!].” Householders would respond with “lucky money” to reward the messengers. Business people of the Cantonese dialect group will hold a ‘Hoi Nin’ prayer to start their business on the 2nd day of Chinese New Year so they will be blessed with good luck and prosperity in their business for the year.
As this day is believed to be The Birthday of Che Kung, a deity worshipped in Hong Kong, worshippers go to Che Kung Temples to pray for his blessing. A representative from the government asks Che Kung about the city’s fortune through kau cim.
Some believe that the second day is also the birthday of all dogs and remember them with special treats.
The third day is known as “red mouth” (Chinese: 赤口; pinyin: Chìkǒu). Chikou is also called “Chigou’s Day” (Chinese: 赤狗日; pinyin: Chìgǒurì). Chigou, literally “red dog”, is an epithet of “the God of Blazing Wrath” (Chinese: 熛怒之神; pinyin: Biāo nù zhī shén). Rural villagers continue the tradition of burning paper offerings over trash fires. It is considered an unlucky day to have guests or go visiting. Hakka villagers in rural Hong Kong in the 1960s called it the Day of the Poor Devil and believed everyone should stay at home. This is also considered a propitious day to visit the temple of the God of Wealth and have one’s future told.
In those communities that celebrate Chinese New Year for 15 days, the fourth day is when corporate “spring dinners” kick off and business returns to normal. Other areas that have a longer Chinese New Year holiday will celebrate and welcome the gods that were previously sent on this day.
This day is the god of Wealth’s birthday. In northern China, people eat jiaozi, or dumplings, on the morning of powu (Chinese: 破五; pinyin: pòwǔ). In Taiwan, businesses traditionally re-open on the next day (the sixth day), accompanied by firecrackers.
It is also common in China that on the 5th day people will shoot off firecrackers to get Guan Yu’s attention, thus ensuring his favor and good fortune for the new year.
The seventh day, traditionally known as Renri (the common person’s birthday), is the day when everyone grows one year older. In some overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Singapore, it is also the day when tossed raw fish salad, yusheng, is eaten for continued wealth and prosperity.
For many Chinese Buddhists, this is another day to avoid meat, the seventh day commemorating the birth of Sakra, lord of the devas in Buddhist cosmology who is analogous to the Jade Emperor.
Another family dinner is held to celebrate the eve of the birth of the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven. People normally return to work by the eighth day, therefore the Store owners will host a lunch/dinner with their employees, thanking their employees for the work they have done for the whole year.
Approaching 12 midnight on this day, Hokkien people prepare for the “Jade Emperor ritual” (Hokkien: 拜天公 Pài Thiⁿ-kong) during which incense is burnt and food offerings made to the Jade Emperor and also to Zao Jun, the Kitchen god who reports on each family to the Jade Emperor.
Some people will hold a ritual prayer after midnight on the eighth day. In Malaysia, especially, people light fireworks, often more than on the first day.
This practice of Bai Ti Gong can also be seen in Singapore.
The ninth day of the New Year is a day for Chinese to offer prayers to the Jade Emperor of Heaven in the Daoist Pantheon. The ninth day is traditionally the birthday of the Jade Emperor. This day, called Ti Kong Dan (Hokkien: 天公诞 Thiⁿ-kong Tan), Ti Kong Si (Hokkien: 天公生 Thiⁿ-kong Siⁿ) or Pai Ti Kong (Hokkien: 拜天公 Pài Thiⁿ-kong), is especially important to Hokkiens, even more important than the first day of the Chinese New Year.
Come midnight of the eighth day of the new year, Hokkiens will offer thanks to the Emperor of Heaven. A prominent requisite offering is sugarcane. Legend holds that the Hokkien were spared from a massacre by Japanese pirates by hiding in a sugarcane plantation during the eighth and ninth days of the Chinese New Year, coinciding with the Jade Emperor’s birthday. Since “sugarcane” (Hokkien: 甘蔗 kam-chià) is a near homonym to “thank you” (Hokkien: 感谢 kám-siā) in the Hokkien dialect, Hokkiens offer sugarcane on the eve of his birthday, symbolic of their gratitude.
In the morning of this birthday (traditionally anytime from midnight to 7 am), Taiwanese households set up an altar table with 3 layers: one top (containing offertories of six vegetables (Chinese: 六斋; pinyin: liù zhāi), noodles, fruits, cakes, tangyuan, vegetable bowls, and unripe betel, all decorated with paper lanterns) and two lower levels (containing the five sacrifices and wines) to honor the deities below the Jade Emperor. The household then kneels three times and kowtows nine times to pay obeisance and wish him a long life.
Incense, tea, fruit, vegetarian food or roast pig, and gold paper is served as a customary protocol for paying respect to an honored person.
The Jade Emperor’s party is celebrated on this day.
The fifteenth day of the new year is celebrated as “Yuanxiao Festival” (simplified Chinese: 元宵节; traditional Chinese: 元宵節; pinyin: Yuán xiāo jié), also known as “Shangyuan Festival” (simplified Chinese: 上元节; traditional Chinese: 上元節; pinyin: Shàng yuán jié) or the Lantern Festival (otherwise known as Chap Goh Mei Chinese: 十五暝; pinyin: Shíwǔmíng; literally: “the fifteen night” in Fujian dialect). Rice dumplings tangyuan (simplified Chinese: 汤圆; traditional Chinese: 湯圓; pinyin: tang yuán), a sweet glutinous rice ball brewed in a soup, are eaten this day. Candles are lit outside houses as a way to guide wayward spirits home. This day is celebrated as the Lantern Festival, and families walk the street carrying lighted lanterns.
In China, Malaysia and Singapore, this day is celebrated by individuals seeking for a romantic partner, akin to Valentine’s Day. Normally, single women would write their contact number on mandarin oranges and throw it in a river or a lake while single men would collect them and eat the oranges. The taste is an indication of their possible love: sweet represents a good fate while sour represents a bad fate.
This day often marks the end of the Chinese New Year festivities.
2018! the year of the dog!
The Chinese zodiac is a classification scheme that assigns an animal and its reputed attributes to each year in a repeating 12-year cycle. The 12-year cycle is an approximation to the 11.86-year orbital period of Jupiter, the largest planet of the solar system. In Chinese astrology the animal signs assigned by year represent what others perceive you as being or how you present yourself. It is a common misconception that the animals assigned by year are the only signs and many western descriptions of Chinese astrology draw solely on this system. In fact, there are also animal signs assigned by month (called inner animals), by day (called true animals) and hours (called secret animals).