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Home > China > Lunar New Year [part 1]

Lunar New Year [part 1]

Legends tells of nien – a beast that at the beginning of each lunar year, walked out from his hiding place to eat. Going to the villages it lunged onto the harvested crops, animals and event the peasants – especially children. In order to escape the attacks and intimidate the beast, people relied on its weaknesses: the loud noise, bright lights, fire and the color red…

Chinese New Year is the longest and most important holiday in the Chinese calendar. Although it is known by this name, in Mainland China it is called “Spring Festival” or “Lunar New Year”.

Why “lunar”?

The Chinese New Year falls during the second new moon (very rarely during the third) after the winter solstice. Most commonly this is the closest new moon to lichun (立春; “start of spring”) and the first new moon after dahan (大寒; “major cold”). This, according to the Gregorian calendar, is the period between January 21 and February 20.

Lunar New Year

The year 2019 goes under the sign of the earth pig/boar (己亥; jǐhài) and the 15 day Chinese New Year celebrations begin on February 5th. Festive days are filled with various activities: rich and varied food, fireworks, firecrackers, betting, games, traditional clothing, red lanterns, dance performances, parades, bazaars, prayers at the temple…

Lunar New Year is a special time to spend with family and friends. It is not surprising that this holiday is characterized with one of the biggest seasonal migrations – everyone is going home to celebrate with their loved ones. In China, schools and businesses do not work during the first few days of the celebrations.

Of course we cannot escape the superstitions and customs that goes with the holiday. In the day before the new year eve the home should be thoroghly cleaned to remove any bad luck that has been accumulated over the past year. And on the first day of the new year don’t touch the broom, leave the dishes in the sink and forget about taking a bath or washing clothes! You’ll ask why? It is believed that doing any of those will remove the good luck that has just “arrived” in the new year. Oh! One more thing – you should not throw the garbage on the first day… And that’s not all! In some regions of China, there are things that can and CANNOT be done during New Year’s Eve celebrations… simply because of the way they sound. Still, customs are a flexible thing, so there is room for interpretation – especially in current times. For example, many people pass the ban on bathing… cause of hygienic reasons. And let’s face it – holidays are mostly to have fun!

Fireworks and firecrackers have a central place during the holiday – their purpose is to scare the evil spirits! That’s also the reason why we started with the legend of nien and his sensitive hearing, intolerance to the red color. In the past, people blazed bamboo stems with gunpowder, which created small explosions. Besides for protection, red is associated with luck and prosperity. This is the reason why all decorations and traditional clothing for the holiday are in this color.

And since it’s a holiday we can’t go without gifts! Tao hongbao (討 紅包; “red envelopes”) is a traditional Lunar New Year gift. As the name suggests, these are red-colored envelopes with money inside (it’s best if the banknotes are new ones). Tao hongbao is given by married couples or adults to the unmarried, youngsters and children. Upon receiving, the red envelopes are held under the pillow and stay there seven nights before they are to be opened.

With the Sping Festival comming, markets and rural outdoor fairs are organized. There you can buy small gifts (usually food or sweats) that are exchanged between friends and relatives. It is important to note that there are gifts that are forbidden during the festive period:

  • things that are usually associated with funerals – towels, napkins, chrysanthemums, white and black colored objects;
  • objects that show that time is running out – clocks;
  • sharp objects – scissors, knives…
  • shoes – can symbolize walking away from a relationship;
  • mirrors.

Did you know?

The Lunar New Year can be quite depressing for those that are single… especially the girls. The reason is the questions about the reason they are still not in a relationship during the family gatherings. To help those people some Chinese websites offer the “fake boyfriend” option.

In the spirit of the long Lunar New Year celebration, in the comming days, expect more curious information about celebrating the holiday both in China and other East Asian countries!

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