Chinese New Year, also known as the ‘Spring Festival’is an important Chinese festival celebrated at the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. Celebrations traditionally run from the evening preceding the first day, to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first calendar month. The first day of the New Year falls on the new moon between 21 Jan and 20 Feb.
The New Year festival is centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and customs. Traditionally, the festival was a time to honor deities as well as ancestors. Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations, including Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mauritius, Australia and the Philippines.
It is traditional for every family to thoroughly clean the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for incoming good luck. Windows and doors are decorated with red color paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of “good fortune” or “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity”. Other activities include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red paper envelopes.
A reunion dinner, named as “Nian Ye Fan”, is held on New Year’s Eve during which family members gather for celebration. The venue will usually be in or near the home of the most senior member of the family.
The New Year’s Eve dinner is very large and sumptuous and traditionally includes dishes of meat (namely, pork and chicken) and fish. Most reunion dinners also feature a communal hot pot as it is believed to signify the
coming together of the family members for the meal. Most reunion dinners (particularly in the Southern regions) also prominently feature specialty meats and seafood that are usually reserved for this and other special occasions during the remainder of the year.
Like many other New Year dishes, certain ingredients also take special precedence over others as these ingredients also has similar-sounding names with prosperity, good luck, or even counting One of the world’s money.
Markets or village fairs are set up as the New Year is approaching. These usually open-air markets feature new year related products such as flowers, toys and clothing. It is convenient for people to buy gifts for their new year visits as well as their home decorations.
In some places, the practice of shopping for the perfect plum tree is not dissimilar to the Western tradition of buying a Christmas tree.
Traditionally, red envelopes are passed out during the Chinese New Year’s celebrations. The red packets are literally translated to mean, ‘the money used to suppress or put down the evil spirit’. They almost always contain money, usually varying from a couple of dollars to several hundred. Per custom, the amount of money in the red packets should be of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funeral. Sometimes chocolate coins are found.
Odd and even numbers are determined by the first digit, rather than the last. Thirty and fifty, for example, are odd numbers, and are thus appropriate as funeral cash gifts. However, it is common and quite acceptable to have cash gifts in a red packet using a single bank note – with ten or fifty yuan bills used frequently. It is customary for the bills to be brand new printed money. Everything regarding the New Year has to be new in order to have good luck and fortune.
Historians believe that the Chinese first began making the now traditional lanterns during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220). The original use of lanterns was primarily as a light source. They were used both indoors and out to provide a shaded light for reading and working. The protection from wind provided by the decorative silk or paper shade kept the lanterns from going out with the breeze.