Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival in mainland China, was celebrated on Tuesday, February 5th, 2019, bidding farewell to the Year of the Dog and ringing in the Year of the Pig. Check out these 10 facts about the most important Chinese holiday of the year!
1. The Calendar
Chinese New Year is based off the Lunar calendar. Unlike Western holidays, which use the Gregorian calendar and have the same date every year, the date ranges from January 21st to February 20th.
It’s corresponding animals are the pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, and dog. Each animal has certain personality traits. For instance, people born in the year of the pig tend to be logical problem solvers, but have short tempers.
2. Red envelope
Red envelopes containing money (and sometimes chocolate coins) are given to children and young people by older relatives. They can also be exchanged between bosses and employees, co-workers, and friends. The amount is always even, as an odd number would only be appropriate for a funeral cash gift. The first number, rather than the last, determines whether the number is even, so $50 would be considered an odd amount of money.
Their are several homophones, or words that sound the same, (homo = one, phone = sound) related to numbers. The word for “8” sounds like the word for “wealth” and “6” sounds like “smooth” (planting the seed for a smooth year). The most inauspicious number is 4 because its homophone is “death”.
In addition to red envelopes, small gifts are exchanged when visiting friends or relatives at their homes. Common gifts are oranges, cakes, biscuits, chocolates, and candy. One should never bring pears because it’s homophone is “separate” and would indicate cutting ties.
Other taboo gifts would be clocks or watches (indicating that time is running out), scissors or knives (implying cutting ties), or shoes (symbolizing that the gift giver wants to walk away from the relationship).
The recipient of the taboo gift would give the other person a penny, therefore symbolically buying the gift dispersing the negative connotations.
According to legend, there was once a ferocious monster named Nian who would come down from the mountains every New Year to eat villagers. Everyone would hide in their homes, but one old man (or boy, depending on the version) put up red papers and fireworks, miraculously scaring him off. Once the villagers discovered that Nian was afraid of fireworks and the color red, every New Year people wore red clothes, hung red scrolls, red lanterns, and lit off fireworks. From then on, Nian never came to the village again.
The most fireworks are set off in the world at midnight to scare off monsters and bad luck. In the morning, firecrackers are used again to welcome the new year and good luck.
However, due to air pollution concerns, many Chinese cities have restrictions on fireworks or have banned them completely. Beijing banned them for 13 years until a public outcry in 2006.
Families traditionally have a reunion feast with numerous symbolic foods, which is based on the foods’ homophones. Apples symbolize peace, fish (eaten on New Year’s Eve) denotes surplus, in Southern dialects, mandarin oranges have the homophone “luck”, ect.
Fun fact: In Northern China, you’re supposed to eat dumplings for every meal, every day for good luck, though most people don’t follow this superstition.
The day before Chinese New Year is dedicated to cleaning to sweep out the bad luck and make room for the good. It makes sense that on cleaning, throwing out garbage, and showering isn’t allowed, so as not to wash away the good luck.
It’s also taboo to use scissor or knives, break things, or say unlucky words like “sickness” or “death”.
In 1967, during the Cultural Revolution, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China announced that official Chinese New Year celebrations were banned. Instead, China was to have a “revolutionized and fighting Spring Festival”, meaning that people had to work on New Year’s Eve.
9. Lantern Festival
Chinese New Year ends with the Lantern Festival, the first full moon of the lunar year. In ancient times, girls weren’t allowed to go outside without a chaperone. Lantern festival was the exception. For this reason, Lantern Festival has less emphasis on family and allows more freedom for young people. It’s known as the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day.
10. Chinese New Year is celebrated around the world
This holiday is celebrated wherever there are significant Chinese populations. In Southeast Asia, the biggest celebrations take place in Malaysia and Singapore. Chinese New Year is also celebrated in Vietnam, South and North Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Although the majority of the Filipino population is non-Chinese, the festivities have extended to the majority and in 2012 the Chinese New Year was included in Filipino public holidays.
Major celebrations also take place in Sydney, London, and New York.