Updated: Jan 24, 2020
Chinese New Year is just around the proverbial corner. A new year symbolizes growth and fresh starts, and with that I find that each year I learn something new about the Chinese New Year (CNY) celebration. You’d think that after several decades of celebrating this holiday I’d get the hang of this, but nope, I learn something.new.every.year. This year is no exception and I’m here to share all the things Chinese New Year. At least… all the things I know.
Chinese New Year is based upon the Lunar Calendar, hence the ever-changing date on the western calendar we primarily use in the United States. This year, Chinese New Year is on Feb 5, 2019. Each year is a turn on the Chinese Zodiac, which is represented by animals. There are 12 animals in all – I’m sure you’ve seen them on the disposable placemats at the old-school Chinese restaurants in town. No? Well, you are missing out! 2019 is the year of the pig. Below you will find a truncated rundown of the basic what’s and why’s of this holiday.
Those born during the year of the pig are known to be peace-loving, hard-working, truthful, and generous. A sociable person with a great sense of humor. So well done, parents with babies born this year!
There is actually 16 days of celebration during Chinese New Year, each day focusing on something different and requiring different ways to ensure a good harvest, good business, a good year…but here are some of the highlights of what most people do. The celebration will conclude on February 19, 2019 with The Lantern Festival.
CNY Eve is celebrated with a big feast with family and extended family, partying into the wee hours of the morning. The saying goes, “the longer you stay up, the longer your parents will live”. So if you love your parents, you don’t go to bed. It’s a fantastic excuse to catch up with family that you haven’t seen in ages, and kids love shirking normal bedtimes.
New Year’s Day is observed with very strict rules all designed for a good and prosperous year:
You have to wear new clothes. From the tippy top of your head (if you’re planning on wearing a hat) to your socks and shoes and everything in between.
You can’t take out garbage or clean your house – I’m all for this, by the way. The idea is so that you don’t sweep out or throw out the good fortune that you have amassed in your household.
You must hold all arguments for another day, especially arguments with loved ones. Because if you argue on New Year’s Day, then you’re doomed to a whole lot of arguing until the next New Year.
Refrain from cutting any hair – this includes facial hair. Something about your maternal uncle will die if you do – not sure how this superstition came about, and asking around the older generation they all just laughed and said “that’s just the way it is.” So just don’t do it.
Firecrackers are lit to ward off evil spirits. And not just any old firecrackers. The really long, really loud ones. Those are the ones that will do.
The day after New Year’s Day is known as “New Year’s Day 2”. This is when the whole family heads to the bride’s home, invited by one of its younger generation. And they can’t go empty-handed – which is just a polite rule, in general, in any culture, really – but the bride and her hubbs must go with gifts in pairs – so two of everything. This is to ensure the luck of the couple, not just one of them.
New Year’s Day 3: Everyone stays home and sleeps in. The longer you sleep the more good fortune you will have this coming year. This works out really well because just a few days ago everyone stayed up really really late.
New Year’s Day 4 – 14: Each day symbolizes something different but basically there is a lot of lighting incense to honor different gods, depending on what sort of good fortune you are looking for in the coming year. Many no longer observe all of the days, but will pick and choose which days to observe based upon when they anticipate for the 12 months.
Day 15 The Lantern Festival: This is a day where many make their own lanterns out of bamboo and beautiful papers. Even today, there are many lantern-making contests that yield beautiful and elaborate lanterns made of delicate papers. This tradition came about during the Han Dynasty when monks return to the temples and light lanterns in prayer. These prayers are for good fortune and health. The emperor ordered that all families light a lantern in solidarity with the monks.
So there you have it. Chinese New Year, in a nutshell. I’m sure I’ll continue to learn more each year; especially since I’ll explain some of these traditions to my own children as they get older and become more curious. My extended family is spread across the globe and we usually take advantage of this holiday to get together for a family reunion. It’s a wonderful family tradition that we’ve created for ourselves and has kept us cousins close, which really, the best holidays are all about.