Centuries ago, during the Shang dynasty, the first New Year was celebrated in China. According to myth, it all began with the battle of monsters. One in particular would always come from the sea on the same night—New Year’s Eve—and terrorize the Chinese people. Eventually, the people discovered that the creature was scared of the color red, fire, and loud sounds. Thus, every New Year, people decorate with red lanterns, light fireworks and play loud noise makers. Also, the name for the monster is the Chinese word for year.
The Chinese New Year follows the lunar calendar and comes as winter draws to a close. It is actually a 15 day celebration. Prior to the celebrations, people clean their homes—out with the old, in with the new—and then decorate with red. On New Year’s Eve, families sit down to enjoy the last meal of the year; often, they have fish (which sounds like "life" in Chinese) but do not consume all of it. For the New Year, people return to their ancestral homes, many of which are located in Western China, loaded with food and money. Packed trains carry many people from East to West. Throughout the 15 days, it is common tradition to eat at different family member’s or friend’s homes. The New Year is about reuniting with family to celebrate being together. Tradition calls for families to gather at a round table and eat round candies and sweets such as bean paste buns. On the fifteenth day, the Yuan Xiao festival signifies the end of the celebrations.
Traditionally, red envelopes are placed under children’s pillows for good luck. TV specials are given by the government, broadcasting performances until midnight. New performers have made it big after performing in these specials. Traditional dances take up a large portion of the special.
Food is essential to the celebration; many of which have symbolic meaning. For example, dumplings signify wealth while long noodles represent long life. Other common foods consumed include meats, oils, rice, fish, and sweets. People normally eat in their homes but can choose to go out for an expensive, shared dinner. Either way, people stock up on food early because free markets are much smaller—and more costly—during the New Year’s celebrations as everyone is at home.
The celebrations are different depending on where you live. The Western portion of China is normally more traditional. The Eastern cities have adopted quite a lot from other places. Chinatowns in the U.S. are also Americanized. Our very own Chinatown in Manhattan will have a Chinese New Year’s parade on February 17th complete with floats and marching bands.
Xin Nian Kuai Le!
(Happy New Year’s!)
Karin Yanagi ‘13