春节 （the Spring Festival）or the 农历新年 (the Lunar New Year) is fast approaching! The new year of the dog begins Friday the 16th of February, with the first new moon of the year. The holiday can fall between the 21st of January and the 20th of February. People start to celebrate the day before the New Year and continue until the 15th day – the Lantern Festival. This year the Lantern festival takes places on the 2nd of March, when people will release red Lanterns to symbolise letting go of the past and moving on into the new year!
Chinese New Year and the Chinese Zodiac
The Chinese zodiac is divided into 12 animals; similar to the 12 Western Zodiacs, however each Zodiac represents a year as opposed to a month. This passes in cycles with each year also being associated with an element. 2018 will be the year of the Earth dog, which is the 11th animal in the 12-year cycle.
Your Birth Year ‘本命年’:
The year you are born in decides your zodiac and you won’t be in your zodiac year again for another 12 years! Surprisingly, your zodiac years are the considered the unluckiest in your life and unfortunate events in this year could have lasting effects on you for the rest of your life! So, you are suggested to take extra care to avoid incurring bad luck. Many Chinese people will buy lucky items as talismans, such as red underwear with lucky characters stitched on.
There are also lucky numbers, cardinal directions and colours associated with your zodiac. 3, 4 and 9 are lucky for people born in the year of the dog, as are the colours green, red and purple.
The Origins of Chinese New Year
Every year around the new Lunar Year, a mythological beast called Nian was said to come and lay waste to towns and eat people, particularly children. Everyone would hide from the beast until he left. One year an old man appeared and refused to go into hiding, and decided he wanted to get revenge on the Nian. He put red papers up around the door of his house with lucky symbols and set off loud firecrackers. The day after, the villagers discovered that their town wasn’t destroyed. They believed that the old man was in fact a god that came to save them. The villagers then realised that the the colour red and loud noises deterred the beast. Next New Year the villagers hung up red lanterns, wore red clothes, and placed red character scrolls on windows and doors, and they set off firecrackers to frighten away the monster. Ever since, Nian never returned to scare the villagers!
Characters on the Door
You will see Chinese phrases on red scrolls around doorways, such as ‘出入平安’ , meaning peace wherever you go. The most common character is ‘福’ Fú which means fortune or luck. It is often placed in the centre of the door to ones home, and sometimes you will see that the character has been placed upside down. This is because by placing it upside down there is an added meaning to the character:
Homonyms are common in Chinese language. The Chinese expression ‘福倒了‘ and ’福到了‘ sound identical, so to have 福 upside down also means to have fortune arrive.
New Years Day Celebrations
On New Years day young family members are given red envelopes called hongbao (‘红包) filled with money, fireworks are set off, dumplings are devoured and relatives are put up with. It is a time when Chinese families reunite, with some people travelling vast distances to see their family. The Spring festival period is host to the largest migration of people on earth, with almost 3 billion journeys being made!
Here are some common greetings to say on the New year:
Taboos to avoid doing on the first day of the festival:
- Debt: You should not lend money on the day, and debts should be paid before New Year’s Eve.
- Washing hair: you’ll wash away your wealth for the year.
- Sharp objects: if you cut yourself it is extremely unlucky.
- Sweeping and cleaning: If you sweep up then your wealth will be swept away.
- Theft: If someone steals from you then your wealth for the year will be ‘stolen.’
- Killing anything: Similar to sharp objects, anything associated with blood is very bad luck.
- Taking Medicine: you’ll be ill all year.
- Monochrome clothing: White and black are the colours associated with sorrow in China.
- Giving specific types of gifts: scissors, clocks, or anything with the number 4 (it sounds like death 死) and shoes (they sound like evil!)
Have a happy New Year and remember, watch out for evil shoes!