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New Year in the Chinese Style

The Chinese calendar, which is both solar and lunar, is one of the oldest in the world. It was started in the Chinese year 2254 when the Emperor Yao divided the year up into 360 days, thus fixing the seasons so that his farmers knew when to plant their crops.

Since then the calendar has grown into a huge book published every year full of information about lunar cycles, astronomical observations and personal fortunes and horoscopes.

Each Chinese month starts on the day of the new moon so that the full moon comes on the fifteenth day of the lunar month. There are 30 or 29 days in each month and 12 months in a year. The new year always starts between January 21st and February 20th.

In 1912 China adopted the Gregorian calendar. This brought China into line with the rest of the world. Like many other countries China celebrated January 1 as a holiday marking the beginning of the official year. However, many Chinese still celebrate the “Chinese New Year” which is called the “Spring Festival”.

The first day of a Lunar New Year begins on the new moon that appears between 21 January and 20 February.

Celebrations of the Spring Festival are finished with the Lantern Festival held on the 15th day of the new lunar year.

In 2021, the first day of the Lunar New Year will be on Friday, 12 February, which is the Year of the Ox.

What does it mean?

Traditionally, Chinese years were grouped in cycles of twelve years.  Each year has assigned a horoscope sign, or, in other words, an animal patron of the year. Your horoscope sign is assigned to the year you were born. You may easily check what sign you are.

At my internet site www.monikapodbielska.com  podcast episode #48 you may check on your Chinese horoscope, see what sign you are and what qualities you have.

According to the legend, Buddha decided to change the calendar and called all the animals together.  Only twelve came. Buddha named the years after them in the order in which they arrived, and so the cycle runs as follows: rat, ox/buffalo, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat/sheep, monkey rooster, dog and pig. People born in a given year are thought to have characteristics related to what the Chinese think of that animal. To be born in the year of the goat is considered unlucky. There are also certain marriages (such as a rat and a horse) which are considered disastrous and so are never permitted.

During the Chinese New Year many people go to the temples to burn incense and sticks and to make offerings to their gods. Inside the house, bright red banners are stuck on the walls, saying “May the family live in peace” or “May the rice sack be filled to the top with pearls of rice.”

On the last day of the old year there is a big family dinner. All members of the family try to be present at this meal, even if they have to travel many miles to reach the home of their parents.

It is said that the period of the Chinese New Year is the moment of the biggest human migration as millions of people travel to get united with their families at this time.

The Chinese celebrations last for fifteen days, or from the new moon to the full moon

On the first day people visit their families. That day you should take no showers, do no laundry or cleaning. And first of all you cannot take out the rubbish! Throwing away rubbish means that you will wash away your luck and prosperity.

On the second day of the New Year which in fact is considered the beginning of the year there is more fun and more visiting.

Some shops open on this day (the second) or on the fourth day, but they will not open on the third day because this is an unlucky day and most people remain at home.

The Gods return from Heaven on the fourth day and the people have a feast to welcome them to their houses.

There is a Chinese tradition that a human came to this world on the seventh day, so this day is a birthday for everybody! There is a special feast of raw fish with vinegar and spices.

There is also a feast to the God of Earth on the tenth day, and another one to the God of War on the thirteenth day. At last after many prayers, feasts and other celebrations the fifteenth day comes. This is a special day for young men and girls. Fire crackers are lit to frighten away evil spirits.

A legend says the half-dragon, half-lion monster called „Nian” comes out of hiding and attacks people (especially children) during the Lunar New Year.

But he had a weakness – these were his sensitive ears.

In the old days, people would light bamboo stalks on fire to frighten the monster.

Nowadays, you can watch spectacular fireworks.

Also, wearing the red color is a must. Red is associated with luck and prosperity, but it’s used mainly for protective purposes. Monster Nian is frightened by red, which explains the abundancy of red everywhere from clothing to decorations.

China and Hong Kong have a film genre devoted to the Lunar New Year.

The films are usually illogical, uplifting comedies, with a focus on families and happy endings to make viewers feel warm and fuzzy.  Something similar to Christmas movies.

Of course, not all Chinese people believe all these things. The old traditions are celebrated more outside China in Chinese communities. But still many Chinese think that the Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in the year.