Chinese New Year has been celebrated for 3,000 years, much longer than Christmas and is one of the world’s largest festivals.
The Lunar New Year is the most important festival of the Chinese Year. It is the celebration to welcome the start of a new year and a festival of family reunion. Chinese New Year begins with a New Moon. The Lunar Year is calculated from the time it takes the moon to travel around the earth; whilst the western calendar is based on the time it takes the earth to go around the sun. The orbits of the moon don't relate to the time it takes the sun to go around the earth, which is why it is at a different date each year.
In the Chinese-speaking world – China, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and some parts of Malaysia – Chinese New Year is a major public holiday. Within all Chinese communities, families get together for a special meal on Chinese New Year eve or the first weekend after Chinese New Year. There are public celebrations all over the world; cities with Chinese communities celebrate with Lion and Dragon dances and parades with traditional costumes. They also welcome the New Year with firecrackers, which hang outside shops and restaurants.
The New Year atmosphere is brought to an anti-climax fifteen days away when the Festival of Lanterns sets in. It is an occasion of lantern shows and folk dances everywhere. One typical food is the Tang Yuan, another kind of dumplings made of sweet rice rolled into balls and stuffed with either sweet or spicy fillings.
The Lantern Festival marks the end of the New Year season and afterwards life becomes daily routines once again.
The word Nian, which in modern Chinese solely means “year”, was originally the name of a monster beast that started to prey on people the night before the beginning of a new year
The Legend of the Twelve Celebrated Animals
Chinese legend tells of Buddha, the Emperor of the Heavens, inviting all animals to share in the New Year’s celebrations – only twelve animals appeared. To reward their loyalty, Buddha named a year after each one in the order they arrived: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram/Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar/Pig.
2014 Chinese New Year celebrates the Year of the Horse, the seventh animal honoured by Buddha, and in the Western calendar this officially begins on 31 January. To mark this occasion, Wellington’s Chinese New Year Festival celebrations are planned for the weekend of Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd February, where a colourful and dynamic programme promises to delight all ages.
The Legend of Nian the Beast
This legend tells of the beast Nian which had a very big mouth that would swallow a great many people with one bite. People were very scared. One day, an old man came to their rescue, offering to subdue Nian. To Nian he said, “I hear say that you are very capable, but can you swallow the other beasts of prey on earth instead of people who are by no means of your worthy opponents?” So, swallow it did many of the beasts of prey on earth that also harassed people and their domestic animals from time to time.
After that, the old man disappeared riding the beast Nian. He turned out to be an immortal god. Now that Nian is gone and other beasts of prey are also scared into forests, people began to enjoy a more peaceful life. Before the old man left, he had told people to put up red paper decorations on their windows and doors at each year’s end to scare away Nian in case it sneaked back again, because red is the colour the beast feared the most. The custom of putting up red paper and firing firecrackers to scare away Nian should it have a chance to run loose is still around. However, people today have long forgotten why they are doing all this, except that they feel the colour and the sound add to the excitement of the celebration.
From then on, the tradition of observing the conquest of Nian is carried on from generation to generation. The term “Guo Nian”, which may mean “Survive the Nian” becomes today “Celebrate the (New) Year” as the word “guo” in Chinese having both the meaning of “pass-over” and “observe”.
Firecrackers are an important element of the festival and are traditionally let off to frighten away ghosts so the New Year could start free of them. Legend has it that long ago there was a monster that terrorised the people, however it was afraid of loud noises, bright lights and the colour red. At midnight on the last day of the old year, these things are used to frighten away the monster for the whole year.
In Chinese and other East Asian societies, a red envelope or red packet (known as Hong Bao in Mandarin, Ang Pao in Min Nan and Taiwanese Hokkien, Lai See in Cantonese, Sae Bae Don in Korean, and Li Xi in Vietnamese) is a monetary gift, which is given during New Year or special occasions. Typically the envelope is adorned with gold writing of good luck characters; good fortune, health, wisdom, or prosperity. Red is a lucky colour and will bring good luck to the person receiving it.