In China, the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival is the most important festival of the year, like Christmas in the UK. It is celebrated on a different date every year because the date is based on the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. A lunar month is two days shorter than a solar month and so, every few years an extra month is added to make up for this, hence why the date changes every year.
How is it Celebrated:
Spring festival is celebrated in several ways in China. The most important event of the Spring Festival is a giant feast. People from the North of China eat dumplings during their Spring Festival feast whereas people from the South eat glutinous rice cakes. Family members will come from far and wide to enjoy it together. Chinese people go to many lengths to attend the Spring Festival feast with their family, with some travelling across the entire country to attend. Family members returning to their hometowns for the Chinese New Year can be described as the largest human immigration event on the planet.
The next way the Chinese New Year is celebrated is through the exchange of red envelopes or “hong bao”. The packets contain money for good luck for the new year. Traditionally the packets were given to unmarried young people and children by those that are already married. Nowadays red packets tend to be given from the older generation to the younger generation as a sign of good will.
Other ways Spring Festival is celebrated in China is by decorating the house with red lanterns, paper cuttings, door couplets and upside-down Fu characters. All these red decorations are displayed to bring in good luck for the new year. Red is a lucky colour in China, furthermore, the Chinese New Year monster, Nian, is said to be afraid of the colour red. He is also afraid of loud noises which is traditionally why Chinese people set off fireworks during the festival.
Chinese lion dances and dragon dances:
Lion dances are a tradition in China spanning thousands of years, originally the lion was thought to be a mythical creature, with lions only being introduced to China during the Han dynasty because of the silk road. Lion dances take place during important occasions such as the Spring Festival or other big occasions as the lion is thought to be an auspicious animal in China and so brings good luck. In the South of China lion dances play an important role in bringing good fortune. Some Chinese businesspeople will even hire a lion dance troupe when launching a new product etc. to bring good luck to their business.
Dragon dances originally came about as a way of praying for rain as the dragon created rain for the thirsty animals in the Chinese zodiac story. After this a dragon dance became a ceremonial activity when worshipping the ancestors. Nowadays dragon dances usually take place at important festivals like the Chinese New Year as a symbol of wisdom, power and wealth.
This year will be the year of the rooster so for any roosters it’s your “ben ming nian” literally your origin of life year. This is a year that will bring you bad luck because people in their ben ming nian offend the God of Age.
The Chinese zodiac years follow a twelve-year cycle, with the order being determined by the Chinese zodiac origin story below.
The Chinese Zodiac Story:
The story goes that a long time ago the Jade Emperor in China wanted to create a way of measuring time and so he declared that a race would take place. The first twelve animals to cross the river would have a year named after them.
Rat and cat, who could not swim, asked the kind ox to carry them across the river and ox agreed. However devious rat pushed cat off ox’s back and into the river and cat drowned. This is why cats do not have a year named after them, it is also said to be why cats and rats hate each other. As ox reached the finish line rat leapt from his back and crossed it first, earning him 1st place, with ox coming second.
Next to finish was tiger who used his strength to swim against the strong current and earn third place. While rabbit hopped across stepping stones and logs to arrive in fourth place.
In fifth place was the dragon, who flew across the river. The emperor asked the dragon why he did not finish first since he could fly, but the kind dragon was delayed by creating rain for thirsty animals. The emperor, impressed by his kindness, stated that the dragon’s son snake could take sixth place as a reward.
Next to arrive was horse, closely followed by rooster, monkey and goat, who had worked together to arrive to the shore by using a raft to cross the river.
Eleventh to arrive was dog, who was delayed to arrive because the rivers water was so clean that he stopped to bathe in it.
The last animal to arrive was pig, again the Emperor asked him why he arrived so late. The pig replied that he was hungry and stopped on the way to have something to eat, after this he fell asleep, eventually crossing the river in last place.