Curious Celebrations : Chinese New Year

There is nothing like it in the world!  The lanterns, the curious red envelopes, the spectacular fireworks and the rich traditions that surround the unique Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival) is treated like a science!  The Chinese run on a 12 year cycle that has perpetuated for several thousand years and each year is represented by a different animal.  Each animal is then described as having their own unique curious little attributes and personalities.  This year is especially noteworthy…the Year of the Dragon!  The dragon is by far the mightiest in the zodiac and it is a revered legendary creature in Chinese culture so it does have quite a bit to live up to!

In the western culture, during New Year a ball drops, people kiss and the night continues with drinking, dancing, and revelry!  In China, New Year last 15 days and is filled with good luck, gifts, fireworks (a lot of fireworks!) and most importantly family.  For some of you not really familiar with the traditions of Chinese New Year, I am glad you are curious enough to find me here!  To enhance your New Year experience, here are a few of the wonderfully curious traditions associated with Chinese New Year…and most especially that curious dragon!

In the beginning there was a demon…

The legend says, long ago, there was a monster called Nian.  On the 1st and the 15th of each lunar month, the curious monster would come down from the mountains to hunt… people.  People were, of course, very much afraid of it and locked their doors early before sunset on the days of its coming.  An old wise man in the village thought it was the panic in people that made the monster so bold and furious. Thus the old man asked people to organize together and to conquer the monster by means of beating drums and gongs, burning bamboo, and lighting fireworks in purpose of making large noises to threaten the hateful monster. When he told people about the idea, everybody agreed on it.  It was a good idea! Since then, people have kept the tradition by beating drums and gongs, and lighting fireworks on the coldest day in winter to drive the imagined monsters away and to celebrate their victory.

Now, this is just one theory.  Another is that Buddha had a feast and the twelve animals that showed up had a year named after them.  I think that is one of the more popular theories now a days.

But the main spectacle is the fireworks!  On the stroke of midnight (and even before) it will be one of the most chaotic and bursting sounds you will get to listen to!  Firework shows, dragon dancing and lion dancing are the most common Chinese New Year activities.  The dance signifies the end of the year and welcoming a new start, driving away evil spirits, bringing good luck and fortune to the people.  The longer the dragon, the more players there are holding it up.

The practice of house cleaning before the New Year is believed to sweep away bad luck and bring good-fortune in the coming year so this is completed before the 1st day since cleaning on the first day might get rid of your newly found good luck!  On the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, every door in the house, and even windows, have to be open to allow the old year to go out.

On the first day of New Years, red envelopes filled with money are given to the young with which I refer this as bribing the evil spirits away!  Red packets almost always contain money, usually varying from a couple of dollars to several hundred. Per custom, the amount of money in the red packets should be of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals.  Small gifts are also given out along with the envelopes. And remember, you don’t clean.  Luck may appear as dust as well!

An important tradition on New Year’s Eve is for families to gather together and spend the evening preparing Chinese dumplings.  It is common to hide a coin in one of the dumplings. Whoever gets the dumpling with the coin will supposedly have good luck in the coming year.  I’ve heard of this for many customs around the world including Mexico just in different types of food!

Everyone should refrain from using foul language and bad or unlucky words. Negative terms and the word “four” , which sounds like the word for death, are not to be uttered. Death and dying are never mentioned and ghost stories are totally taboo. References to the past year are also avoided as everything should be turned toward the New Year and a new beginning.

Another curious thing about Chinese New Year is that on the 7th day (of the 15 days), everyone of Chinese decent treats it like it’s their birthday!  It is everybody’s birthday and the party is everywhere!  To the ordinary Chinese, the festival actually begins on the eve of the lunar New Year’s Day and ends on the fifth day of the first month of the lunar calendar. But the 15th of the first month, which normally is called the Lantern Festival, means the official end of the Spring Festival in many parts of the country.

Wearing red is also important!  The color red is said to help frighten away Nian.  Red is considered a bright, happy color, sure to bring the wearer a sunny and bright future. It is believed that appearance and attitude during New Year’s sets the tone for the rest of the year.  And as with everything, it brings good fortune!

And the last peaceful spectacle is the Lantern Festival.  On the 15th lunar day of 7th lunar month is the birthday of the Hell Officer who has the right to pardon ghosts. On this day, all the ghosts can leave hell for the human world for food. So the 7th lunar month is called Ghost Month.  During the Lantern Festival at the beginning of the year helps appease him before his birthday.  During the night of lantern festival, Some people will fly the sky lantern by writing their wishes on the paper lantern and pray their wishes come true. A long time ago, people thought the lantern will fly up to the heaven. The god of heaven will receive their messages and will give them blessing.

For those of you curious about the year of the dragon, here are a few facts for you!

Dragons symbolize such character traits as dominance and ambition. Dragons prefer to live by their own rules and if left on their own, are usually successful. They’re curiously driven, unafraid of challenges, and willing to take risks. They’re passionate in all they do and they do things in grand fashion. Unfortunately, this passion and enthusiasm can leave Dragons feeling exhausted and interestingly, unfulfilled.

  • 16 February 1904 – 3 February 1905: Wood Dragon
  • 3 February 1916 – 22 January 1917: Fire Dragon
  • 23 January 1928 – 9 February 1929: Earth Dragon
  • 8 February 1940 – 26 January 1941: Metal Dragon
  • 27 January 1952 – 13 February 1953: Water Dragon
  • 13 February 1964 – 1 February 1965: Wood Dragon
  • 31 January 1976 – 17 February 1977: Fire Dragon
  • 17 February 1988 – 5 February 1989: Earth Dragon
  • 5 February 2000 – 23 January 2001: Metal Dragon
  • 23 January 2012 – 9 February 2013: Water Dragon
  • 10 February 2024 – 28 January 2025: Wood Dragon

So the theme for Chinese New Year is new, new, new!  Curious new beginnings, new clothes, new attitude!  It is fascinating and unique and I think the world is a lot brighter this time of year for the festivities and good luck brushed on us by a beautifully curious ancient tradition!

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19 thoughts on “Curious Celebrations : Chinese New Year

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