Chinese or Lunar New Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese New Year is rich with tradition and symbolism and provides a great opportunity to have some fun and understand a little more about Chinese Culture.  The following page provides but a glimpse of what Chinese New Year is all about and we hope that it inspires you to learn some more about this exciting and fun time in the Chinese calendar.

Chinese Calendar:  The Chinese calendar is thought to have been invented by Emperor Huangdi, nearly 3000 years BC.  Unlike the Gregorian (Western) calendar, New Year is typically celebrated on the day of the second new moon after the day on which the winter solstice occurs.  Confused?  Well in 2006 this means that CNY begins on 29 January and the celebration ends 15 days later on 13 February 2006.  Why 15 days later?  Well at this time the moon is full for the first time and this celestial event is traditionally marked by the Lantern Festival.  

In the Chinese Zodiac 2008 (or 4706 in China) is a Year of the Earth Rat.  The Rat is the first in the cycle of 12 Animal Signs, so it is a time of renewal and hard work.  People born in an Earth Rat year are said to be logical realists, shrewd, charming, ambitious, and inventive.  In China rats are considered courageous and enterprising.  Anyone born in a Year of Rat is said to be clever, adaptable, sociable, active, and family-minded.

The Chinese New Year Zodiac is included below. Which animal are you?  Which animal is your partner?  And which animal is your child?

Horse

Goat

Monkey

Rooster

Dog

Pig

Rat

Ox

Tiger

Rabbit

Dragon

Snake

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The Lion Dance: Whilst not native to China the lion is considered to be a holy animal and appears a great deal in Chinese mythology.  Lion Dances usually take place in the first few days of CNY to bring luck to homes and businesses.  Loud music and firecracker’s usually accompany the lion to ward off evil spirits.  Green leaves and red envelopes are hung above the door of the home or business and the lion chews on these before spitting them out and ending his dance.  This is called Choi Cheng, or “picking the green”, and is intended to signify that the year ahead will be filled with abundance and good fortune.

Chubby Baby Posters:  Chubby Babies Riding Gold Fish!  What The?  These posters are actually called “Nian Hua", or Chinese New Year posters.  Apart from being strangely cute, they are very potent symbols of happiness, luck, wealth, prosperity and fertility.  One doesn't have to tell a parent or prospective parent that a picture of a baby is joyous thing, but in addition these posters are also covered in many other auspicious symbols.  If you are interested you may refer to the “Symbols” page on this website for further details.

Red Envelopes:  Red envelopes or red packages with lucky symbols are given to children at the start of the CNY.  They contain money and are a wish fro prosperity in the coming year.  They are called “Hong Bao” and “Lysee” in Mandarin and Cantonese respectively.

Lucky Gods:  During CNY celebrations one can often see reference to Chinese Gods.  The “Star Gods” and the “Door Gods” are seen in Chinese homes and businesses throughout the year, but have particularly significance at CNY.  However the “Kitchen God” is intimately linked with CNY Celebrations.  Pictured here with his wife, the “Kitchen God” travels to heaven on the 24th day of the last lunar month to report on the family’s activities to the Jade Emperor. Sacrifices are made to him on this day so he will make a favourable report.  (So I guess in some ways he is kind of similar to an AFIS Social Worker!  *laugh*)  Images of the Kitchen god are burned as a symbolic act of departure and his area in the home is cleaned in preparation for his return on New Years Eve.

The Lantern Festival:  The Lantern Festival falls on the fifteenth day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar and marks the end of CNY Celebrations.  There are many stories about how the Lantern Festival originated, however most agree that it has some religious or spiritual basis. Taiyi, the God of Heaven in ancient times was a vengeful deity and to please him the Emperor would hold annual ceremonies which included the use of lanterns.  Others point out that Tianguan, the Taoist god responsible for good fortune, has a birthday on the 15th day of the first lunar month.  Coincidence?  Probably not as he was known for enjoying a good party!  Still others link the Festival to the arrival of Buddhism in China as followers believe that the power of the Buddha can dispel darkness. Some say that if one holds the lanterns to the night sky one can see the spirits of ancestors pass by.  However like many religious festivals, today the Lantern Festival has largely become an excuse to have a big night party, eat dumplings and admire the beauty of the lanterns.  And why not!

Superstitions:  As with the Western New Year, the Chinese equivalent is steeped in superstition.  Many still honour these superstitions today although some may not even know the reason why.

  • Debts should be settled before CNY begins to avoid a bad financial year.

  • Do your housework before CNY and definitely not on the first day of the year as you may wash or sweep away good luck!

  • Don’t wash your hair on the first and last day as this can also wash away good luck.

  • Sharp objects such as knives and scissors can cut good fortune threads and should be avoided on the first day.

  • Avoid negativity.  This includes bad thoughts, language and actions.  Be positive and friendly to all.

  • Don’t discuss sickness or death and avoid killing animals on the first day and this will prevent bad luck.

  • Firecrackers at midnight will frighten evil spirits away.

  • Don’t lend anything to anyone on the first day of CNY as this implies they can keep it for the entire year!

  • Crying on the first day means that you will cry all year.  Children can get away with anything on this day as parents are keen to avoid tears!

  • Wearing one’s best clothing, preferably red, is considered to be very auspicious at this time.

  • The first person and words one hears will be significant for the whole year ahead! Being woken by bird song is considered to be a very good sign.

  • A feast on New Years Eve is a traditional way to welcome the New Year and dumplings should be the first food consumed

  • On New Years Eve a light should be kept on the whole night.

  • Children receive red packets from family on New Years Morning.