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Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year (春節, 春节, Chūnjíe; or 農曆新年, 农历新年, Nónglì Xīnnián), also known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. It consists of a period of celebrations, starting on New Year's Day, celebrated on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, i.e. the day of the second new moon after the day on which the winter solstice occurs, unless there is an intercalary eleventh or twelfth month in the lead-up to the New Year—in such a case, the New Year falls on the day of the third new moon after the solstice. (The next time this occurs is in 2033.) The Chinese New Year period ends with the Lantern Festival, the fifteenth day of the month.
Legend has it that in ancient China, Nian ("Nyehn") was a man-devouring predator beast that could infiltrate houses silently. The Chinese soon learned that Nian was sensitive to loud noises and the color red, and they scared it away with explosions, fireworks and the liberal use of color red domestically. These customs led to the first New Year celebrations.
Celebrated internationally in areas with large populations of ethnic Chinese, Chinese New Year is considered to be a major holiday for the Chinese as well as ethnic groups such as the Mongolians, Koreans, the Miao (Chinese Hmong) and the Vietnamese, who were influenced by Chinese culture in terms of religious and philosophical worldview, language and culture in general. Chinese New Year is also the time when the largest human migration takes place when Chinese all around the world return home on Chinese New Year eve to have reunion dinner with their family.
Traditionally, red packets (Mandarin: 'hong bao' (紅包); Hokkien: 'ang pow' (POJ: âng-pau); Hakka: 'fung bao'; Cantonese: 'lai see' (利是)) are passed out during the Chinese New Year's celebrations, from married couples to unmarried people (usually children). Chinese New Year is celebrated with firecrackers, dragon dances and lion dances. Typically the game of mahjong is played in some families.
A reunion dinner is held on New Year's Eve where members of the family, near and far, get together for celebration. The New Year's Eve dinner is very large and traditionally includes chicken. Fish (魚, yú) is included, but not eaten up completely (and the remaining stored overnight), as the Chinese phrase 年年有魚/餘; (nián nián yǒu yú, or "every year there is fish/leftover") is a homophone for phrases which could mean "be blessed every year" or "have profit every year", since "yú" is also the pronunciation for "profit". A type of black hair-like algae, pronounced "fat choy" in Cantonese, is also featured in many dishes since its name sounds similar to "prosperity". Hakka will serve "kiu nyuk" 扣肉 and "ngiong tiu fu" 釀豆腐. Because the things sound alike, the belief is that having one will lead to the other, like the old child's aphorism "step on a crack, break your mother's back".
First Day of the New Year
New Year's day is also celebrated within the family. Usually family members gather on the morning of New Year's Day. It is at this gathering that red envelopes are given to unmarried members of the family. The age of the recipient is not material to receiving the envelope. Married couples usually give out two red envelopes on the first new year after being married. This is because the wife presents one and the husband presents one. In subsequent years they may give one as a couple.
Red envelopes traditionally consisted of amounts which were considered multiples. Amounts like $2 (two piece of $1), or $20 were acceptable. Similarly "multiples" such as $1.10 and $2.20 were also acceptable. However, this is not strictly adhered to. The gift was originally a token amount but these days it is not uncommon to receive large sums in affluent families. In some families this tradition has evolved into the practice to substituting money-like instruments (stocks, bonds, unit trust) in place of large sums of cash.
Red envelopes are also given to unmarried visitors but the sums are often smaller than the envelope given to family members or close friends.
Seventh Day of the New Year
The seventh day traditionally is known as the common man's birthday, the day when everyone grows one year older. It is also the day when tossed fish salad, yusheng, is eaten. People get together to toss the colorful salad and make wishes for continued wealth and prosperity. This is celebrated primarily amongst the Chinese in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Singapore.
The New Year season lasts fifteen days. The first week is the most important and most often celebrated with visits to friends and family as well as greetings of good luck. The celebrations end on the important and colorful Lantern Festival on the evening of the 15th day of the month. However, Chinese believe that on the third day (年初三) of the Chinese New Year it is not appropriate to visit family and friends, and call the day "chec hao" (赤口), meaning "easy to get into arguments".
The date of the Chinese New Year is determined by the Chinese calendar, a lunar calendar. The same calendar is used in countries that have adopted the Confucian and Buddhism tradition and in many cultures influenced by the Chinese, notably the Koreans, the Tibetans, the Vietnamese and the pagan Bulgars. Chinese New Year starts on the first day of the new year containing a new moon (some sources even include New Year's Eve) and ends on the Lantern Festival fourteen days later. This occurs around the time of the full moon as each lunation is about 29.53 days in duration. In the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, on a date between January 21 and February 21.
The Chinese New Year is often accompanied by raucous greetings, often referred to as 吉祥話 (Jíxiánghùa), or loosely translated as auspicious words or phrases. Some of the most common examples may include:
The saying is now commonly heard in English speaking communities for greetings during Chinese New Year in parts of the world where there is a sizeable Chinese-speaking community, for instance in Australia, Canada and America among others. In other English-speaking communities with a larger Chinese-speaking population, the Mandarin version tend to prevail especially when multiple dialect groups exist, particularly in Malaysia and Singapore. Numerous other greetings exist, some of which may be exclaimed out loud to no one in particular during specific events or actions. For example, as breaking objects during the new year is considered inauspicious, one may then say 歲歲平安 (Suìsuì píngān) immediately, which means everlasting peace year after year. 歲 (Suì) sounds phonetically similar to the word 碎 (Suì), the latter of which refers to the action of shattering, in a demonstration of the Chinese love for utilizing phonetical patterns in coming up with similar auspicious phrases. Hence, 年年有余 (Niánnián yǒuyú), meaning a wish for surpluses and bountiful harvests every year, plays on the word yú to also refer to 魚 (meaning fish), thus using it as a catch phrase for fish-based Chinese new year dishes or written on paintings or graphics of fish and hung on walls or presented as gifts. Other circumstances which may trigger the use of these greetings or phrases may be when children greet their elders just before receiving their red packets, when gifts are exchanged, during visits to the temples, or even when tossing the shredded ingredients of Yusheng particularly popular in Malaysia and Singapore.
- Traditional Chinese: 新年快樂; Simplified Chinese: 新年快乐; pinyin: Xīnnián kuàilè. A more contemporary greeting reflective of western influences, it literally translates from the greeting "Happy new year" more common in the west.
- Traditional Chinese: 恭喜發財; Simplified Chinese: 恭喜发财; pinyin: Gōngxǐ fācái; Hokkien Keong hee huat chye; Cantonese: Kung hei fat choi (also spelt kung hei fat choy or kung hey fat choi); Hakka: Kung hee fat choi, which loosely translates to "Congratulations and be prosperous." Often mistakenly assumed to be synonymous with "Happy new year", its usage dates back several centuries, with the Cantonese transliteration said to have first entered English usage in the 1800s, for instance. While the first two words of this phrase had a much longer historical significance (legend has it that the congratulatory messages were traded for surviving the ravaging beast of Nian, although in practical terms in may also involve surviving the harsh winter conditions), the last two words were added later as capitalism and consumerism ideas took greater significance in Chinese societies around the world.