The Origin of Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is now popularly known as the Spring Festival because it starts from the Beginning of Spring(the first of the twenty-four terms in coordination with changes of Nature). The Spring Festival is one of the four traditional festivals in China, also the most important festival for Chinese people. The celebration may last a whole month from the first day of the Chinese lunar year. Its origin is too old to be traced. Several explanations are hanging around. All agree, however, that the word Nian,which in modern Chinese solely means “year”, was originally the name of a master beast that started to prey on people the night before the beginning of a new year.

One legend goes that the beast Nian had a very big mouth that would swallow a great many people with one bite. People with one bite. People were varying 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, it did swallow many of the beasts of prey on the earth that also harrassed 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 begin to enjoy their peaceful life. Before the old man left, he had told people to put up red paper decoration on their windows and doors at each year’s end to scare away Nian in case it sneaked back again, because red is the color the beasts feared the most. 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”.The custom of putting up red paper and firing fire-crackers 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 color and the sound add to the excitement of the celebration.

The festival is not only observed in China mainland, but also celebrated in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, some Asian countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam, and also China towns in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. The traditions also evolve into their unique ways of celebration. Being one of the traditional festivals, it is time for the whole family to reunite together, which is similar to Christmas Day to the westerners.

Before the Spring Festival, every family will have a thorough house cleanup and go for festival items shopping. The red spring couplets, red Fu Character, and red animal paper cut are pasted for decoration. Also, new clothes must be bought, especially for children. At the reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve, people from north will eat dumplings, which southern people are used to having Niangao (glutinous rice cake). Red Envelopes are given to kids and elders to share the blessing. Why is red color so popular? It’s because red symbolizes happiness, prosperity and good luck in Chinese culture. Next, Let ’s take a look at the related traditional customs.

Eating Chinese dumpling (Jiaozi)
With a variety of fillings used, Chinese dumplings taste fresh and delicious. They are usually

enjoyed with seasoning sauce or seasoning soup, which helps to improve the flavor. In northern China, the dumplings, Jiaozi in Chinese, are one of the most popular staple foods. Different from the ancient times when people only had dumplings on important festivals, they now eat whenever they want. But still, making and eating dumplings is an important activity for most families on the Eve of Chinese New Year. Family members gather together at a table, wrapping and eating dumplings while and enjoying the Spring Festival Gala. In addition, it is a tradition in northern China to eat dumplings on the day of Winter Solstice.

Pasting Spring Festival Couplets (Chunlian)
Spring Festival Couplets, Chunlian in Chinese, is also known as Spring Couplets or Chinese New Year Couplets. It is the most common and important custom when celebrating Chinese New Year. This tradition is widely kept both in modern cities and rural areas of China. Writing Spring Festival Couplets With black or golden characters written on red paper, Spring Festival Couplets are composed of a pair of poetry lines vertically pasted on both sides of the front door and a four-character horizontal scroll affixed above the door-frame. Pasting couplets expresses people’s delight in the festival and wishes for a better life in the coming year. The first line (upper scroll) and the second line (lower scroll) have parallel structures and antithetical meanings. The two lines should have an equal number of characters, while their meaning must be related and antithetical. There must be a one-to-one correspondence between the two lines. The tone pattern is emphasized but the rhythm is not important. The horizontal scroll is a four-character phrase, which sums up the two lines’ meanings.

Giving the Red Envelope (Hongbao)
Red envelopes, also called red packets, lucky money, or hongbao in Chinese, are a popular monetary gift given on some important occasions or festivals in China and some other Asian countries, especially widely seen during the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival). It is a Chinese New Year gift with money stuffed into the red paper to kids. The red packets are usually presented by parents and grandparents to children during Chinese New Year, which is probably one of the most recognized traditions that are observed during the Festival.

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