History of China's New Year and its celebration
Chinese New Year
Of all the national holidays in China there is none more important than the celebration of the New Year and the Spring festival.
The ancient Chinese calendar is a lunar-solar calendar, that is a calendar based on the movements of the moon and the sun. For that reason the date of the new year changes each year. Every year is thought to be dominated by one of the Chinese zodiac animals, taking on the characteristics of that animal. The animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.
New Year History
The inauguration of the New Year celebration dates back at least 3700 years. By legend, the new year started when a mythical beast called "Year" rampaged through the country. "Year" normally lived in the sea but once every twelve months this ox with a lion head would attack the land, harming people and their animals and property. To keep him at bay, people used the color red, fire, and loud sounds.
Consequently, the holiday continues to be celebrated with hanging red Dui Lian poetry in front of their homes, igniting huge banks of fireworks, and hanging red lanterns.
The New Year was also a time to honor household and heavenly deities. Ancestors were also honored.
In former ages, people cleaned their homes to rid them of “huiqi,” or inauspicious breaths, negative forces that might have collected during the prior year. Cleaning also appeased the gods who would inspections those homes. To ensure the homes would pass inspection, people offered food and paper icons as ritual sacrifices. Children received luck money from their elders. All of this was an attempt to create good luck for families in the coming year.
The final course served on New Year’s Eve would be fish, a symbol of abundance. The guests at table would not eat it. The initial five days of the New Year Chinese would eat long noodles as a good luck charm offering long life. On the fifteen and final day of the celebration, people would eat round dumpling to remind of the full moon, a sign of family unity and perfection.
Chinese will give their homes a thorough cleaning prior to the new year. Holiday decorations are used to brighten their homes (not unlike Christmas decorations in the U.S.).
Family is the primary focus of the New Years and Spring Festival. Most will travel, sometimes great distances, to be with family members. In fact, travel during this festival has been called the greatest human migration in history. Chinese families also use this time to visit tourist destinations.
In addition to visiting relatives and friends, Chinese use this time for shopping, watching shows that celebration the holiday, and launching fireworks. Many will lay plans for the coming year. Some Chinese observe religious ceremonies designed to honor heaven, earth, the family ancestors, and other gods. Activities such as beating drums and striking gongs, as well as dragon and lion dances, are all part of the Spring Festival festivities. Ancient symbols continue to be used. For example, an image of a fish symbolizes “having more than one needs every year.” A firecracker symbolizes “good luck in the coming year.” The festival lanterns symbolize “pursuing the bright and the beautiful.”
Most employees will enjoy a weeklong vacation; some will take up to ten or even fourteen days vacation.
Today many Chinese families dedicated a significant amount of money to celebrate Spring Festival. Purchasing traditional symbols and food are at the top of their shopping list. Extravagant Spring Festival celebrations are televised and garner huge audiences.
Chinese people continue to be sensitive to the supposed influence of zodiacal animals. They will often shape their plans for the year, including the birth of children, based on the year’s animal. For many young Chinese, however, Spring Festival primarily offers a chance to relax and enjoy themselves.
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