Everything you should know about the Chinese new year

Everything you should know about the Chinese new year

It is nearly time for the biggest celebration in China – the Chinese New Year!

This year the date falls on 12th February which will kick off the Year of the Ox and 16-days of celebrations.

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, is a special time for the family to get together. The festival is drenched in traditions, legends, and symbolism, some of which have changed and evolved over the years.

The History of Chinese New Year

The origin of the Chinese New Year can be traced back around 3,500 years to the Shang Dynasty when sacrifices were given to gods and ancestors in the beginning and end of a year.

The term ‘year’ first appeared during the Zhou Dynasty, but the date for the new year (the first day of the first month in the Chinese lunar calendar) wasn’t fixed until the Han Dynasty (202-220 AD). Early celebratory activities like bamboo burning became common during this time.

Customs, such as family getting together, started forming during the Wei and Jin dynasty. From then onward the creation of customs accelerated and became the norm, resembling the traditions upheld today.

As new activities and ways of celebrating gained popularity, the Chinese New Year changed from a religious festival to one of entertainment.

The Chinese Legends behind New Year

There are multiple legends and myths linked to Chinese New Year, which explain why the Chinese celebrate the way they do.

Niam the Beast

One of the most popular legends and the reason why people decorate their homes in red and light up firecrackers on New Year’s Eve, is the story of a mythical beast, Nian.

The monster Nian would come yearly to eat livestock, cause havoc, and kill.

One day a man came to the village and was told of the beast. He devised a plan to scare Nian away by putting up red decorations, wearing red and by burning bamboo in a bonfire, causing a sound like firecrackers. The beast ran away and since then people have set off firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.

Red Envelopes

The origin of the red envelopes has many stories. Some say they came to be because an orphan won a battle against a demon and was rewarded with a red envelope full of money.

Others say the tradition started when an evil spirit used to visit children in their sleep and make them ill. One time, a child’s parents placed coins near their child’s pillow on top of red paper. When the evil spirit came, the flash of the coins scared it away.

Chinese Zodiac Animals

The order of the Chinese Zodiacs stems from an ancient race organised by the Jade Emperor; the animals competed in a race and the winning order set the order of the Zodiacs. Due to some cunning, the rat finished first!

How is Chinese New Year Celebrated

One of the main activities is putting up red decorations and lanterns to homes and buildings.

The Reunion dinner, which is considered the most important dinner of the year, takes place on New Year’s Eve. Everyone from the family is expected to be there as family time is incredibly important for this festival.

Fireworks and firecrackers are set off at midnight and have become a big part of the festival. Traditional public performances like dragon dances are also popular.

The giving of red envelopes (either by hand or electronically) is also customary. These red envelopes containing money are believed to bring good luck.

Foods to Eat on Chinese New Year

Every celebration deserves a feast! Dishes prepared for the New Year are symbolic in bringing prosperity and happiness.

Some essential dishes for a New Year’s Reunion dinner are spring rolls and dumplings, steamed fish, a whole chicken, long noodles, and a hot pot.

For dessert, sweet desserts are preferable for a sweet new year! Nian Gao (glutinous rice cakes), various cakes such as Fa Gao, Turnip cake and Jujube Flower cakes are some common choices.

 Popular snacks for the New Year include baked seeds, malt candy, ox tongue pastries and fruit platters. Tusu wine is a customary drink for the Chinese New Year.

The Year of the Ox

The Rat gives way to the Year of the Ox in 2021. The ox is a sign of positivity, honesty and hard work.

新年快乐 / 新年快樂 (Xīnnián kuàilè) – Happy Chinese New Year from Camseng!

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