2011 – The year of the Metal Rabbit
The Chinese or Lunar New Year is the most important of the Chinese Holidays. The dates for the Chinese New Year are determined by the lunisolar calendar. The celebrations traditionally commence on the first day of the month in the new Chinese calendar and end on the 15th, this day is called ‘lantern festival’. The calendar is also used in countries that have adopted or have been influenced by Han culture.
As a result of this the Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, a date between January 21 and February 20 in the Gregorian calendar. This means that the holiday usually falls on the second (or in very rare cases third) new moon after the winter solstice. Lichun is a Chinese solar term meaning ‘marking the start of spring’, which occurs around February 4. Each year of the Chinese calendar relates to an animal in the Chinese Zodiac along with an earthly branch.
Tales and legends depict the beginning of Chinese New Year starting with the fight against a mythical beast called Nian or “year” in Chinese. Nian would come on the first day of New Year to devour livestock, crops and even children. To protect themselves people left food in the doorways at New Year.
On the days leading up to the New Year celebration Chinese families will clean their homes thoroughly. It is believed the cleaning sweeps away the bad luck of last year and prepares their homes ready for good luck. Brooms and dust pans are put away on the first day so that luck cannot be swept away. A fresh start is also symbolised by having a hair cut or buying new clothing.
The Chinese New Year celebrations include visits to friends and, these are known as “New Year visits.” New clothes are usually worn to signify a New Year. The colour red is liberally used in all decorations. Red packets containing money are given to juniors and children by the married and elders.
The first day is for welcoming the deities of Heaven and Earth, officially beginning at Midnight. Many people will abstain from eating meat on the first day as it is believed that this will ensure a long life for them. Some consider lighting fires and using knifes to be bad luck on New Years day, so all food to be consumed is cooked the day before. Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time when families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended family, usually their parents, grand parents or great grand parents.
Some families may invite a lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the lunar New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises.
The second day of the New Year is for married daughters to visit their birth parents. On the second day, the Chinese pray to their ancestors as well as to all the gods and they are extra kind to dogs and feed them well as it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs.
The third and fourth day of the New Year are generally accepted as inappropriate days to visit relatives and friends.
On the fifth day (Po Wu) people in Northern China traditionally eat dumplings in the morning. Today is also the birthday of the Chinese god of wealth.
The seventh day (renri) is known as the common man’s birthday, this is the day when everyone grows one year older! It is the day when tossed raw fish salad, yusheng, is eaten. People get together to toss the colourful salad and make wishes for continued wealth and prosperity.
The ninth day of the New Year is when the Chinese offer prayers to the Jade Emperor of Heaven.
The fifteenth day of the New Year is celebrated as Chap Goh Mei in Fujian dialect. Rice dumplings, a sweet glutinous rice ball brewed in a soup, are eaten this day. Candles are lit outside houses as a way to guide wayward spirits home. This day is celebrated before midnight. Red packets for the family are sometimes distributed during the reunion dinner. These packets often contain money in certain numbers that reflect good luck and honorability. Several foods are consumed to usher in wealth, happiness, and good fortune.