Chinese New Year’s history and traditions explained

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Zya Crawford

Feb. 11 marked the end of China’s longest holiday, Chinese New Year, a social and economic holiday lasting 15 days.

Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the lunar calendar (Jan. 28), and it is considered the beginning of spring so it is called the Lunar New Year and The Spring Festival. To enable residents to be with their families and friends, most employers in China give their workers at least seven days of vacation.

Schools and universities are closed for an entire month. Much like the Western New Year (Jan. 1), the biggest celebration is on the eve of the holiday. At the turn of the new year, firework displays are put on throughout the city.

According to ancient Chinese myths, the holiday was established because of the wild beast Nien, which also is the word for “year” that appeared at the end of each year, attacking and killing villagers. Loud noises and bright lights were used to scare the beast away, and the Chinese New Year celebrations were born.

Today, people celebrate a year of hard work by resting, relaxing, traveling with family, and wishing for a lucky and prosperous coming year. On the days prior to the holiday, families will go shopping for new clothes and clean their homes, to symbolize a fresh start.

Children receive red envelopes with “lucky money” and on New Year’s Eve, are allowed to stay awake until late. Every light in the house is supposed to be kept on the whole night.

At midnight, the whole sky is lit up by fireworks and firecrackers. The old year is bidden farewell, the new year called Xinnian (Pinyin: xīn nián, literally: new year) is welcomed.

Residents also participate in parades, the highlight of which is the dragon dance. The traditional dance involves using strategically placed poles to manipulate a colorful dragon made of silk and paper.

Since the animal is considered lucky, communities try to maximize their good fortune by building the longest possible dragons. For the grand finale, the celebrations end on the day of the full moon with a lantern festival.

As the name indicates, it involves putting up red lanterns in homes and temples. There are also paper lanterns on wheels created in the form of either a rabbit (for luck) or the animal of the year (2019 is the Year of the Pig).

While the menu varies, most meals will incorporate traditional dishes like long uncut noodles, which signify longevity, and whole chickens that symbolize family togetherness. Wealth and prosperity are represented by dumplings that look like ingots (ancient Chinese currency) and spring rolls, which resemble gold bars.

Additionally, for big feasts, families will offer eight or nine food items because in the Chinese culture, eight represents success, while nine, symbolizes infinity. They will also avoid serving four dishes, because the word “four” sounds similar to the word death in Cantonese and is, therefore, considered unlucky. While primarily known as the “Chinese” New Year, holiday has influenced its neighboring Asian countries like Thailand and Singapore and even in cities all the way in the United States.  

On Feb. 5, the Simmons Center hosted an event for students to learn more about Chinese culture with food and fun games.

Valeria de la Cruz, a senior and representative of MSC, led discussion regarding customs in the Chinese New Year tradition and on representation of Asian and Asian-American performers in American media over time.

Freshman Besta Emelle said that cultural events on campus are important in order to “learn about people that are different from you.”

“I love learning about other cultures and how their lives differ from ours,” sophomore Michael Mulligan said.

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè! (Happy New Year!)

 

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