By Siera Millard
Photo by The Flag Shop (N.d.)
Photo by Daily Hive (2017)
Each year millions of people in China, and around the world, celebrate Chinese New Year on the first new moon between January 21st and February 20th. It is a time for festivals, parades, and families to come together. It occurs this year on February 16th.
Though it is unknown exactly when the celebration of the Chinese New Year began, it is thought that a religious ceremony of the New Year occurred during the Shang rule, China’s first recorded dynasty. Three dynasties later, during the Han rule, Emperor Wu officially established the first day of the first month as the New Year holiday.
The Chinese calendar differs from the western calendar we are familiar with, having been invented before the 14th century B.C.E. by Emperor Huangdi of the Qin Dynasty: “The traditional Chinese year is calculated according to a solar formula but fitted into a lunar calendar to make it a lunisolar calendar” (Gunawan, N.d.). Thus, Chinese New Year is also called the Lunar New Year. It consists of twelve months with twenty-nine or thirty days in each and totals three hundred and fifty-four days. The leap month is added about every three years. The calendar is not a continuous, infinite date; instead, it is based on a sixty-year cycle, and zodiac signs are part of naming the years within a cycle. The Zodiac signs are as follows: boar, rat, ox, tiger, hare/rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram/sheep, monkey, rooster, and dog. They correspond with the year and restart every twelve years.
In 1912 the Chinese adopted the Gregorian or western calendar for official dealings under Chairman Mao Zedong of the Republic of China. However, they still use the traditional one for festivals and celebrations - such as the New Year holiday. In modern times, the traditional Chinese New Year is often referred to as the Spring Festival. This is due to the week off of work given to workers in China, called the Spring Festival.
Traditions and Celebrations
Much of the start of the celebrations for the new year is plagued with legend and myth. There was thought to be a creature named Nian, meaning “year,” that would attack people. To fend it off, people would have to make loud noises and use bright lights because the monster was said to be afraid of them. The color red was also used to guard against Nian. Thus began the traditions that we see today. Loud noises and bright lights translated to fireworks, and the color red is often associated with the Chinese New Year.
During the new year it is customary to clean your home in order to rid of any residing bad luck. There are also processions and the Lantern Festival, a parade of hanging and carried lanterns. During these parades, the dragon, which is a symbol of good luck in Chinese culture, may be seen. The new year is a time to reconcile and come together with family. Shou Sui is a tradition of family gathering with a reunion dinner, remembrance of the past year, and embracement of the new year. Like people of western culture saying, “Happy New Year,” in Chinese culture they have greetings as well, one of which is akin to, “Congratulations and be prosperous.” As aforementioned, fireworks and firecrackers are used as they are thought to ward off evil spirits.
Sophomore Ashley Song says that she and her family celebrate Chinese New Year and follow many of these traditions: “My family celebrates by distributing red paper bags filled with money in them, which is a common tradition in China, and we also eat moon cakes to celebrate the Lunar New Year,” she says. The red paper bags, or packets, are passed from elders to young people, or married to unmarried. They do not contain a certain amount of money, but odd numbers and the number four are considered bad luck while the number eight is good luck. Ms. Song also states, although she herself has never been to China for the new year because of school, “It is very elaborate in China...imagine the most large-scale party ever and that’s how a lot of Chinese people celebrate the holiday.”
2018, A Ruff Year
The current sixty-year cycle started on February 2nd, 1984. Technically, year 2018 on the Gregorian calendar is year 4716 on the traditional Chinese calendar. 2018 is the year of the dog, the last one being 2006. Things that are considered lucky for those born in the year of the dog are: the numbers three, four, and nine; the colors red, green, and purple; and the directions east, south, and northeast. Things that are considered unlucky are the colors blue, white, and gold; the numbers one, six, and seven; and the direction southeast.
Per Chinese notion, people will have bad luck in the year of their birth. This is because they offend Tai Sui, the God of Age in Chinese mythology. Thus, 2018 will be a bad year for those born in the year of the dog.
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