21 Things You Should Know About Celebrating Chinese New Year?
1. The New Year Day always wasn’t the same date in the Chinese calendar
The Spring Festival originated from ancient rituals to worship gods and ancestors. It was an occasion of thanksgiving for God’s gifts taking place at the end of the years farming activities. Due to the differences of the Chinese calendars used in different dynasties, the first day of the first lunar month was not always the same date in the Chinese calendar. In the Xia Dynasty (2070 BC-1600 BC), the first month in the Xia calendar was the first month of the lunar year. In the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC-1046 BC) the last month in the Xia calendar became the first month of the lunar year. In the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC-256 BC), the eleventh month in the Xia calendar was seen as the first month of the Zhou calendar. After China was unified by the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC-206 BC), the tenth month of the Xia calendar became the first month of the lunar year. Not until Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) was the first day of the lunar year finalized to be in the first month of the Xia calendar.
2. What are the solar calendar and the lunar calendar?
Since ancient times, Chinese people have adopted over a hundred kinds of calendars. The most widely observed are the yang li and the yin li. The former is the solar or Gregorian calendar that is now in use in various countries, including China. In English, yin li means “the lunar or agricultural calendar.” It has been used in China since the Xia Dynasty for about three or four thousand years. Yin li actually contains a mixture of solar and lunar elements. The length of time of the rotation of the moon is counted as a month. There are 12 months in a year of 354 days, 13 months in a leap year of 384 days. In ancient China, the year was divided into 24 solar periods (24节气), each of which is marked by three climatic signs. Those periods are directly related to farming and have been observed for several thousand years. Currently Chinese use the lunar calendar for the scheduling of holidays such as Chinese New Year (the Spring Festival), the Mid-Autumn Festival, and for divination including choosing the most auspicious date for a wedding or the grand opening of an important building.
3. What is the origin of spring couplets?
Chunlian(春联) are couplets posted on gates during the Spring Festival. These originated from the “peach-wood charms” in the ancient times, which were meant to send off the old and usher in the new. These charms were tiny rectangular plates and made of peach-wood. In the Song Dynasty, the paper came to be used instead of wood plates for writing spring couplets, and in the Ming Dynasty, encouraged by Emperor Taizu(太祖), spring couplets came to be greatly vogue. On one New Year day after he made Nanjing as his capital, Taizu issued an imperial decree requiring all officials, scholars and common people to paste a pair of couplets on their gates. As he traveled around, he was pleased to see these colorful spring couplets.
The time-honored practice of pasting spring couplets is still being followed to these days. However, the current couplets are quite different from those of the past as far as their meaning is concerned. They now either describe the flourishing national progress or wonderful sights of the land. They also give expression to people’s wishes for a still better future.
4. Why is a Chinese character “fu” often pasted upside down on a door or a wall?
To paste the Chinese character fu alongside the New Year couplets is also a very popular custom in many places. Fu means fortune, luck and longings for a happy life. The character fu can be written in different styles and can be pasted on doors, walls and household utensils. In some areas, people would intentionally display the character upside down because the Chinese characters of fudao (fu upside down) and the Chinese characters for the arrival of fortune are nearly homophonous.
5. How was gunpowder invented? what does it have to do with firecrackers?
Gunpowder was one of the four great inventions of China. In ancient China, in searching for immortality, the Chinese alchemists used niter and sulfur commonly to produce immortality pills. In the process, they realized that these ingredients were very flammable. In the mid-Tang (618-907) period, alchemists discovered that by mixing niter, sulfur, and charcoal together they would cause an explosion when niter and sulfur were heated. This discovery led to the invention of gunpowder.
After the gunpowder invention, people began to fill up bamboo rods with gunpowder to make Bao Zhang (bursting bamboo). Later bamboo rods were replaced with stiff paper tubes, which were braided together in a string so that they could explode one after another in a sequence to produce a loud and sharp sound. They were first called Bian Pao (braided crackers). Because the sound resembled the bright and sharp sound of a horsewhip, firecrackers were later called Bian Pao (horsewhipping crackers). In Chinese braiding and horsewhipping have the same pronunciation of Bian. Specialized firecracker shops quickly appeared everywhere in China and they produced a great variety of firecrackers. In the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) fireworks came into being as a result. Fireworks added more festivity to the New Years holidays.
6. Do you know who the door Gods are?
New Year pictures came from the tradition of pasting pictures of Door Guardians on the entrance to protect the family from evils and demons, which was the reason why people would do this on the Chinese New Years Eve. The predecessor of Door Guardians was peach-wood charms, which had the same theme of Shentu and Yulei or Warrior Cheng Qing.
Shentu and Yulei are two mythical figures. According to folklore, there were two brothers living in the Dushuo Mountains, who were specialized in catching demons. Whenever a demon came to earth to do evil things, the two brothers would tie it up to feed tigers.
Qin Shubao and Yuchi Gong. Qin Shubao (originally named Qin Qiong) was a famous general at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) known for his bravery and fearlessness. He won many battles for Emperor Li Yuan to establish the Tang Dynasty. Yuchi Gong was another famous general in the Tang Dynasty known for his daring and skillful acts. He helped the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty Li Shimin to kill his brothers and seized the throne in the famous “Xuanwu Gate Palace Coup”. Both Qin Shubao and Yuchi Gong became the archetype of Door Guardians in the Tang Dynasty.
7. What is Yasui Qian, Money for the New Year?
Yasui Qian originated in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD ) and it was not the real money used in the market. They were made in the shapes of coins for people to play with. They usually had auspicious words or patterns.
According to a folktale, there was once a little demon called Sui, who always came out on the New Years Eve to touch the forehead of small children. Whoever got touched by him would run a high fever and talk in dreams. When the fever was gone, the child would become retarded. The parents were so afraid of Sui that they would stay up all night to protect their children. A Guan family got their son at a late age and they treasured him very much. On New Year’s Eve, they stayed up all night to play with their child.
Later, the child felt asleep. They wrapped a few coins in red paper and put them next to his pillow. Because of their age, they were not able to stay awake and fell asleep, too. When the whole family was deep in sleep, the little demon Sui came in and was about to touch the child’s forehead. But all of sudden a golden light shot up from the child’s pillow. Terribly frightened, Sui screamed and run away. This incident quickly spread into the neighborhood. Everybody started to follow what the old couple had done. They wrapped coins in red paper and gave them to their children on New Year’s Eve. From then on Sui never showed up again. They called the money wrapped in red paper “money to suppress Sui”. Since the character for Sui (demon’s name) sounds similar to the character Sui (year) in Chinese, the original Sui (the demon) in the “money to suppress Sui” gradually changed into Sui (year) in the money for the new year.
8. Why do Chinese people staying up all night on the New Year’s Eve?
The Chinese New Year’s Eve is the last day of the last lunar month in the Chinese calendar connecting to the beginning of the Spring Festival. The New Year’s Eve in Chinese is Chu Xi, meaning the end of the last lunar month and the end of a year. When the old year comes to an end and a new year is about to start, people want to get rid of the old to prepare for the new. On the New Year’s Eve after their last meal of the year, family members would sit together and stay up all night chatting about the past year and the upcoming new year until the arrival of the New Year. This custom is called Shou Sui, the vigil for the year.
9. What are special certain rules about New Year’s greetings?
On the first day of the first lunar month, everybody gets up early and dresses up in new clothes. People pay visits to relatives and friends to exchange blessings. This is called Bai Nian (pay a New Year call) in Chinese. In ancient China, there were two different types of visits on the Chinese New Year’s day. Bai Nien, the first type of visits, was to pay respect to the oldest and most senior members of their extended family, usually their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. He Nian (New Year greetings), the second type of visits, was made between people of the same generation. The visits usually started from one’s own family such as visits to grandparents and uncles. And then families, friends, and neighbors went to visit one another. Close relatives and friends were also invited to have a big meal together. This kind of invitations must be made beforehand. In some places it was called “invitation to the spring banquet” and in other places, it was called “visiting relatives”. On the second day of the second lunar month, married daughters usually went back to their own home to visit their parents and relatives together with their husbands and children.
In ancient China in addition to exchanges of greets among families and friends, the imperial court would also hold a New Years Day ceremony for court officials and foreign envoys to appear before the emperor in celebration of the coming new year. This ceremony started from the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and continued in subsequent dynasties. The Tuan Bai (group visits on New Years Day) custom is a continuation of this imperial ceremony and used today only for people working in the same government office to gather together to have tea and exchange New Year greetings.
10. What is the special custom on the fifth day of the first lunar month?
The fifth day in lunar January is a special day characterized by the events of “receiving the god of wealth and open beneficial business”.
When the day is approaching, people burn incense and set off firecrackers and fireworks to welcome the god of wealth with doors and windows wide open. People must eat much more than usual, which is known as “fill the hungry holes”, to imply that they will not be consumed by poverty and starvation.
11. What is “Breaking Five” day and “seeing Poverty Off”?
The fifth day of the first lunar month was called a “Breaking Five” day because this was the day that people could break all taboos set before the first lunar month. Meanwhile, it was the birthday of the God of Wealth. Every family must arrange a banquet with wine and food to celebrate his birthday. Big stores in particular, would open their doors early to welcome him with drums and gongs.
When the God of Wealth was invited in, God of Poverty must be sent off on the 5th or the 6th day of the first lunar month. It was commonly known that between the New Years day and the fifth day of the first lunar month no trash should be thrown away in order to accumulate wealth. On the fifth day, all trash could be thrown out, which was a way to send off the God of Poverty Different methods were used to send off the God of Poverty. For example, people used paper to cut out a woman image and called her “The fifth Lady of Poverty”. She had a paper bag on her back and people would put some dirt found inside the house into her bag. Then she would be blown up with firecrackers outside meaning that the fifth Poverty” was sent off.
12. What kind of symbolism that the pig is in Chinese concept？
The people of Han ethnic group in China own the tradition of pig worship, regarding pig as the symbol of richness and good fortune. Unlike cattle and horse, the pig does not need to work hard and can enjoy a wealthy life without worrying about food and clothes. The fat shape, big ears, and strong body also testify his comfortable and affluent living conditions. Therefore, Chinese people believe that big ears symbolize fortune.
Chinese people hold the perception that pig stands for auspiciousness and satisfaction. so it is common to see the elements of pig showing up in large events like important ceremonies or wedding celebration. The pig used as the sacrificial offering in the Spring Festival is usually called as the Annual Pig by Han Chinese people and their custom is to kill the Annual Pig and offer it to the Kitchen God, praying for the New Year’s good fortune, harvest, and thriving domestic animals. In old times. the activity of Killing Sow to Exorcise Demons was prevailing in the Han ethnic group. When people encounter with unfavorable situations like rampant diseases of people or domestic animals or rough days, the elders of a family would establish an offering table, and asked other family members to kill a sow as the sacrificial offering to the deities for driving out evil spirits and blessing.
13. What is zodiac year of birth？
The worship for the zodiac signs is an important part of the concept held by Chinese people towards the zodiac year of birth. The zodiac year of birth is calculated according to the circular order of the twelve zodiac signs. Based on the zodiac sign of the lunar year when one was born, the person’s zodiac year of birth in the future is decided. According to the circulation of the twelve zodiac signs, every twelve-year one will meet with his or her zodiac year. For instance, a person who is born in the Zi lunar year owns the zodiac sign of rat and after 12 years when it is the Zi year again, it is the person’s zodiac year of birth. According to this circulation, one will meet his or her zodiac years of birth at the ages of 12, 24, 36, 48 and 60 years old. Therefore, the zodiac year of birth is the lunar year that one certain zodiac sign represents every 12 years, also known as the Year of Zodiac Sign.
14. What custom and taboo are there in the zodiac year of birth?
The zodiac year of birth is generally regarded as the year that will bring disaster and misfortune on the basis of traditional Chinese custom. Therefore, Chinese people describe the zodiac year of birth as the Threshold Year since to pass the zodiac year equals stepping across a threshold. In order to avoid calamities and pray for auspiciousness, when encountering with the zodiac year of birth, it is conventional to wear a red band for both adults and children. In addition, children should also wear red vests and red pants to turn calamities into blessings. Based on that, people pay special attention to the 12th birthday of children in China. On that birthday, the child should wear red accessories like red silk band and red necklace and what is more, parents will prepare a banquet and invite relatives and friends to come to celebrate the child’s birthday and the guests will send presents for a blessing. Furthermore, people also attach importance to the 60th birthday of the elders. The year of the 60th birthday marks the fifth zodiac year of birth as well as a cycle of the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches, possessing special meanings. On that day, the elder’s children will hold a birthday party to wish him or her health and longevity.
15. A legendary story of dumplings
In Henan, people eat Frozen Ears, the dumpling we are familiar with. There is a moving story about the custom. It is said that Zhang Zhongjing, known as the medical sage, worked as an official away from home. On Winter Solstice, he retired from office and returned home in Nanyang. Watching local people with frozen ears in rags, Zhang Zhongjing felt so sad. He took his disciples with him and put up a medical shed outside the downtown. They stewed mutton, cayenne pepper and some medicine which could fend off a chill together. After that the stewed mate-rial was chopped finely and put into the flour cover which was shaped like an ear. Finally put them into the pot again and boiled to be the medicine, which can fend off a chill, and distributed to ordinary people for free. After taking the medicine, people’s frozen ears were cured. From then on, local people decided to hand down this custom since they believed it was able to fend off a chill and got rid of illness to eat dumplings.
16. CCTV Spring Festival Gala – the longest and most-watched show with the greatest cast in the world
The nationwide-known Spring Festival Gala or CCTV Spring Festival Gala, or simply called the Gala, is a variety of shows hosted by CCTV to celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year’s Day on the Eve of the Spring Festival.
The Gala has set up three records in terms of performing scale participating cast, running time and audience number. It is recognized by the World Records Academy as the longest and most-watched show with the greatest cast. In April, 2012, CCTV got the certificate from the Guinness book of records.
The show began in 1979 to celebrate the Spring Festival nationally. Since in 1983 CCTV hosted the Gala successfully for the first time, Gala watching has become a new Chinese custom and culture. The province-based TV stations and the stations of all levels followed CCTV’s example and blazed new trails.
17. What are the Spring Festival customs of the Zhuang people?
During the festival, young men and women will gather in the street or on the hillside of the village singing folk songs, and sometimes this will last three days and nights. In some areas, young people also like throwing silk balls in groups. “Spring Hall Dance” is a favorite dance of young people to celebrate the New Year and wish for the harvest. They go around the rice trough dancing and striking with the rice pole on the back or carrying pole on the shoulder, wishing the warehouse full of cereals.
Other activities such as lion dancing, chicken dancing, and spring cattle dancing also attract many young people. That Lion team strikes the gongs and drums, puts up high platform; the lions cycle on more than ten square tables and walk there freely, drawing bursts of applause.
18. “Spring Transportation” is considered to be the largest-scaled and longest-periodic human movement
The booming Chinese economy speeds up urbanization and population movement. A growing number of farmers left their hometown to be workers in southeast coastal areas. Some Chinese even went overseas to earn their living. Their intense home-sickness is hard to overcome and form today’s “large-scale transportation”. To buy a ticket home, many migrant workers wait in line a couple of nights. To be a reunion with family members or not has become a concern. In 1980, “Spring Transportation” as a term first appeared in the official news reports. It is considered to be the largest-scaled and longest-periodic movement. Till now, “Spring Transportation” has remained a word of dilemmatic emotions. During the Spring Festival, a great number of people have to travel a long way between the city where they work and the hometown where they were born. The hard journey home full of bitter and sweet is a pilgrimage.
19. Golden week for tourism
Travelling became a new holiday selection and golden weeks offer people more chances to enjoy a trip. Crowded enough, present tourists tend to be rational and mature enough to avoid popular historical and scenic spots and prefer a quiet sightseeing journey, which can rest both bodies and souls to the full length. By far the tourism in golden weeks has gone up steadily, which stimulates the development of catering and business to a great extent.
20. Media and internet celebrating Chinese New Year
In 2002, NetEase, a network company, initiated a program called virtual television gala, which changed greatly traditional ways of celebrating Chinese New Year. Cyber stay-up replaces the traditional stay-up and has attracted more netizens. An increasingly growing number of young people would like to spend the Eve’s night in front of their computer. They entertain themselves by listening to songs, watching movies or chatting with friends. The network offers them more selections and seems more interactive in term of communication than TV is. This undoubtedly will be a new and trendy practice of celebration if we could take its advantage.
21. Chinese New Year has become an international festival
In the world, there are still many other countries celebrating the Spring Festival and they are mainly located in Asia. These nations have been influenced by Chinese culture and the Spring Festival is on the list of lawful holidays. While in Europe and America, only overseas Chinese observe the tradition. The festival attracts more attention to the growing influence of Chinese people. Far away from their homeland, many overseas Chinese still celebrate the Spring Festival in both Chinese and exotic ways. This traditional festival has gone abroad and becomes an international festival.