Chinese New Year is also known as Spring Festival. It occurs somewhere between January 20 and February 20. Each Chinese year is represented by a repeated cycle of 12 animals, the rat, ox, tiger, hare (or rabbit), dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Chinese New Year is China’s biggest holiday. This year is ox.
Its origin is ancient, but many believe the word Nian, which mans “year”, was the name of a beast that preyed on people on the eve of a new year. In one legend, the beast, Nian , had the power to swallow up all the people in a village in one big bite. Village people were very scared of Nian.
One day, an old man came to the villagers’ rescue, offering to subdue Nian. The old man asked Nian, “I know you can swallow people, but can you swallow other beasts of prey instead of people who are by no means your worthy opponents?” Nian accepted the old man’s challenge and swallowed the beasts that had harassed the villagers and their farm animals for years. In the end, Nian was gone and the other beasts of prey were scared into hiding in the forests. The villagers could once again enjoy their peaceful life.
The old man told the villagers to put red paper decorations on their windows and doors at each year’s end in order to keep Nian away. It was believed Nian was afraid of the color red.
The tradition of observing the conquest of Nian has been carried on from generation to generation. The term “Guo Nian”, which means “Survive the Nian”, became “Celebrate the Year” and the word “guo” in Chinese means both “pass over” and “observe”.
The custom of putting up red paper and lighting firecrackers to scare away Nian continues today.
Days before the New Year celebration, Chinese families are busy giving their home a thorough cleaning. It is believed the cleaning sweeps away bad luck and makes the house ready for good luck to enter. All brooms and dust pans are put away on New Year’s Eve so good luck cannot be swept away.
In many homes, doors and windowpanes get a new coat of red paint. The home is decorated with paper-cuts and poems called couplets of “happiness”, “wealth”, “longevity” and “satisfactory marriage with more children”.
The New Year’s Eve supper is a feast with all the numbers of the family getting together. One popular food is jiaozi, which are dumplings boiled in water. After dinner, the whole family stays up all night playing cards, board games or watching TV programs dedicated to the New Year’s celebration. Lights in the horse are kept on during the whole night. At midnight, the sky is lit up by fireworks which symbolize the sending out of the old year and the welcoming in of the new year. People open all the windows and doors in the house in order to let the old year go out.
Very early the next morning, children greet their parents and receive their New Year presents. They get lucky red envelopes with money inside. The rest of the first day of the New Year is spent visiting relatives, friends and neighbors.
There are many ancient superstitions still practiced on New Year’s Day in China. Many people do not eat meat on this day because they believe it will give them happy lives for the rest of the year. Also, some believe it is bad luck to wash your hair on this day because you would wash away the good luck of the new year.