History of the Chinese New Year
The precise origin of the Chinese New Year is shrouded in mystery, but is based on a centuries-old legend of a lion-like monster called Nian (年). This beast, whose name also means ‘year,’ was defeated by villagers with loud noises, firecrackers and drums. The activities became synonymous with the New Year festival and people continue to use fireworks and drumming as a symbolic gesture of scaring away evil spirits. Celebrations can be traced back as far as 2300 BC, during the reigns of Emperors Yao and Shun.
It Begins With A Race
Chinese Mythology tells the story of a Jade Emperor, who ordered 12 animals to swim across a river. Out of them, a cunning and clever rat hopped on the back of an ox, and then jumped to the bank to win. The positions were: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The order of their arrival marks the twelve-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac. Indeed, a magical way to create a chronology of time. It also resembles Western astrology.
Like in many other cultures, the New Year festival marks the start of the second new moon based on the lunisolar calendar. The celebration lasts for about 15 days during which families will clean the house, pray, and display traditional decorations. It is a time for people to wish for prosperity for the year. People give each other red envelopes, hong bao, with money inside to represent happiness and good luck. But, this isn’t just for kids. A wonderfully decorative packet is like pocket money for grown-ups!
The New Year is brought in with fireworks exploding in fantastic colours, shapes and patterns across the sky. Believed to have been invented by the Chinese, the fireworks symbolise the start of the celebration, but are also used to drive away evil spirits. Sparklers, Catherine wheels and synchronised bursts create dazzling displays in the night sky that will thrill any spectator.
New Year Cake
Chinese cuisine is delicious, but the New Year offers even more sumptuous dishes and desserts. A popular sweet is New Year Cake, nian gao, a sticky glutinous rice cake made of sugar and steamed dates and chestnuts. It signifies achieving spectacular things in the coming year. Be careful, though, the small size means they can be eaten by the dozen! To satisfy the savory cravings, jiao zi are snack-sized dumplings filled with meat or vegetables and eaten with soy sauce. They are a perfect comfort food for a cold night.
No Chinese New Year is complete without the famous red lanterns that decorate homes and streets. The origin of the paper lantern is steeped in history. Once used to protect candles from extinguishing, and also used by monks in Buddhist ceremonies in Ancient China, they are now highly decorative, artistic objects. They are a depiction of a joyous occasion, lighting up the dark, and an intrinsic part of the New Year celebration. The Chinese New Year is a time of great religious and historical significance to the Chinese community, but also an event where all people can rejoice in gift-giving and spend time with loved ones. Happy Chinese New Year. Xīnnián kuàilè!