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The Chinese New Year is the same day as the first day of Spring in the lunar calendar. However, the festivities start earlier than this.

They may begin on the eighth day or the 23rd or 24th day (more of a family choice) of the twelfth lunar month of the previous year when the Kitchen God returns to Heaven. The Kitchen God reports to the Jade Emperor (also known as the Emperor of Heaven) of all the good and bad each household has done in the past year. The Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month concludes the New Year celebration.

According to the legend, Chinese people started celebrating Chinese New Year during the Emperor Shun era, from 23rd-22nd B.C. Emperor Shun was a legendary leader in China. After ascending the throne, Shun held ceremonies to worship heaven and earth. People referred to the day of the ceremony itself as the first day of the New Year; that is, the first day of the first lunar month.

The ancient Chinese put much emphasis on astrology and calendars. They believed human affairs were correlated with the positions of stars and planets. The time for the earth to orbit the sun once is marked as one year in the calendar, which one year is divided into four seasons. The first day of the spring is the first day of the lunar year and the old year ends at midnight on the 30th or 29th (it varies from year to year on the Chinese calendar) of the 12th lunar month.

Among the numerous folk tales related to the Chinese New Year Celebration, the legend of the “Nian” is the best known. Once upon a time in ancient China, the Nian (literally meaning “Year” in Chinese) – a ferocious beast with a lion’s head and a cow’s body – lived in the depths of the forest. The beast fed on animals in the mountains when it could; but in winter, when food was scarce, it ran out of the forest to attack villagers and their animals. Therefore, people lived in fear of the winter. Villagers were too scared to even mention the Nian.

As the years went by, although the Nian had been a ferocious creature, some clever villagers noticed some of its weakness. It was afraid of the color red, of fire, and loud noises. So one winter, every household in the village hung a red board on the front door and kept a pile of firewood burning outside the house. They also stayed up at night, beating gongs and drums to make loud noises. Seeing the red doors, and burning fire, and hearing the deafening noises, the Nian ran away never to return.

The next morning, people congratulated each other and called this day a new year. Since then, on Chinese New Year’s eve, people affix red banners to their doors, leave a pile of wood burning outside, and make loud banging sounds. The next morning, they congratulated one another. These traditions were the origin of attaching couplets written on red paper and setting off firecrackers during the Chinese New Year.

The literal meaning of Chinese New Year’s Eve is the eve that sends away the old year and ushers in a new year. It bears the blessing that the old will be stripped away and the new will be greeted.

The three most important things to do on Chinese new year’s eve are: worship ancestors, have a family reunion dinner, and stay up late to see the Old Year out and the New Year in. Offerings will be placed on the family altar at noon, with candles and incense burning. The honoring of ancestors will last until the 5th day of the first lunar month. Fish, a symbol of abundance, is a required dish at dinner. After dinner comes the happiest moment for kids’ receiving lucky money from the elderly. Everyone, including children, stay up late to greet the New Year. It is also considered an act of praying for the longevity of his or her parents.

 

There is also a list of “don’ts” during the time of the Chinese New Year festivities. For instance, there is no trash dumping from the first day until the fifth day of the New Year, for fear of throwing away good luck. When sweeping, one has to start from the door and move toward the inside of the room, lest the good fortune be swept outside. Needles and knives are laid aside to give women rest after a year of household chores. Creditors should not go after debtors to leave them in peace during the holidays. Words associated with ill omens should be avoided. People should avoid taking medicine, scolding children, quarrelling, and breaking things.

There are some popular Chinese New Year nursery rhymes. One of them is the First Lunar Month Rhyme, beginning with, “Awaken early the first day of the year, also early the second day, and sleep on the third day.” People get up early on the first day to worship their ancestors or visit temples to pray for good fortune. The younger generations have to pay elderly courtesy calls. The second day is the day for married daughters to visit their parents. The third day is said to be the day for mice to get married.

Therefore, everyone goes to bed early lest they should interfere with the weddings. The 7th day is a birthday for humanity. According to the Divination Book, Heaven began to create beings on earth on the first day of the first month. “On the 1st day, chickens were created; the 2nd day, dogs; the 3rd day, pigs; the 4th day, sheep; the 5th day, cows; the 6th day, horses; the 7th day, humans; and the 8th day, valleys.” The 15th day of the 1st month is called the Lantern Festival, also known as the Shang-Yuan Festival, when people hang out various beautiful lanterns to celebrate the first full moon of the Lunar year.

Article : Lin Meiying
Translation : Amy Hsu
Photo : New San Cai

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