January 31st 2014
The most important holiday that is celebrated in China is New Year, the first day of every new calendar year. This celebration starts traditionally on the eve of the Chinese New Year and continues till the Lantern Festival culminating in the middle of the last month of the calendar. It is referred to as the Spring Festival and is the longest festival that the Chinese celebrate. It is also known as the Lunar New Year. The reason for this is that the Chinese calendar happens to be lunisolar.
The Chinese have always paid importance to tradition and custom over the centuries. They lay great store in myths and during the festivals which honor their ancestors, as well as deities. The lunar New Year has always been a significant time for people living in Mainland China, Taiwan, Macau, Honk Kong and Singapore. Every Chinatown in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Mauritius celebrate this holiday with great flair and style.
The traditions and customs in China vary according to the region and these are observed during the Chinese New Year. The families get together in China on the eve of Chinese New Year and organize grand dinners annually where families reunite and celebrate. They pay attention to cleaning out the home as they believe that they can remove any bad luck that may be in the home and allow room for good fortune to step in. Every door and window in the home is decorated with couplets and paper cut-outs in red. Each one has a special word written on it for prosperity in the coming year, such as “wealth”, “happiness”, “good fortune” and “longevity” Firecrackers are lit and money is distributed in red paper envelopes. Red is important festive color which traditionally represents good fortune and joy.
Traditionally the years that are numbered in the Chinese calendar are not continuous. They are generally numbered from the time of the Yellow Emperor who reigned in the 3rd Millennium BC. Scholars across the world have begun to use the numbers 4711, 4650 and 4710 as these years have been numbered from 2013 AD.
Legend has it that Nian, a mythical beast arrived every day on the first day and attacked livestock, villagers, children and crops. This provoked fights against Nian. Villagers tried to protect their families by placing food for the beast outside their front doors. This food satiated Nian and he left the villagers and their crops alone. Some people noticed Nian running away scared when he came across a child in red clothing. This made the villagers hand scrolls and lanterns in red outside their doors and windows. Firecrackers also terrified Nian so the villagers lit many to ensure that Nian did not return to their village again. Hongjun Laozu, an old Taoist monk finally captured Nian and used the beast as his mount. This legend provides the basis for many traditions of Chinese New Year.
For centuries, the Chinese have celebrated Chinese New Year and consider it a public holiday. The working days are shifted around to accommodate this festival as the date does not fall on the same day each year as it does with the Gregorian calendar. If the New Year happens to fall on a weekend a holiday then a statutory holiday is given on a work day to let the people celebrate this great day. In 2013, the New Year was on Sunday and the eve of New Year fell on a Saturday (9th February).
One last thing to do before celebrating the Chinese New Year: Get a haircut! According to myth, it is bad luck to cut hair and nails at the beginning of a new year.