The last New Year celebrations have barely faded in our memories and realm of consciousness, and we’re marking yet another New Year celebration. It’s the Chinese New Year this time.
February 10th is the date, or the start of the 15-day Chinese New Year celebrations. Based on the lunar calendar (dictated by the phases of the moon as it circles around the Earth, rather than the revolution of the Earth around the sun), the Chinese New Year never coincides with the world’s New Year celebrations on Jan. 1st. In fact, the Chinese New Year celebrations change dates from year to year.
We’ve seen red in many stores and homes as the Chinese New Year was approaching. We also saw a number of red envelopes where money gifts are placed in.
Bright red is a traditional color to commemorate what allegedly happened some 3,000 years ago. Red not only represents joy, happiness, and longevity; it is also the color that the monster, which used to molest ancient Chinese villages and women and children, was most afraid of, or so we’ve been told.
We’ve watched the dragon dance on Chinese New Year. It’s another tradition still honored these days. In ancient China, the dragon was considered a helpful beast to the community, associated with longevity, fortune and rain.
The booms of gongs, the heartbeats of drums, and the bang-bang of firecrackers, as well as a friendly dragon helped banish that plundering monster from the Chinese villages. So we also expect some firecrackers fired, and even magnificent fireworks shows.
Food is always part of Chinese celebrations. At the heart of the festival, families come home, and reunite in the sharing of family ties and gratefulness.
Fish is the main dish on New Years’ Eve, and there’s always leftover, in the hopes for a plentiful harvest. The celebrators never flip the fish onto its other side, as this symbolizes bad fortune, like tipping over a fisherman’s boat.
Special dumplings come aplenty, too, stuffed with pork mince, cabbage, garlic, and herbs. Sticky rice dishes are also traditional mainstays.
Another tradition you’ll notice (or not) is the avoidance of the use of knives, scissors or other sharp objects, as they’re seen to ‘cut away’ luck. So, they use chopsticks, or spoons and forks only.
At the family reunion, Chinese pray to their ancestors and gods (such as door gods and the stove god) for good fortune and a successful harvest. They also pray for blessings, longevity, health, and peace.
Many worship on Chinese New Year’s eve, before the reunion dinner, to demonstrate that they are allowing their ancestors “eat” first. Offerings of meat, wine, joss sticks, and joss paper are placed in front of the shrine/grave.
Prior to the big family gathering, the Chinese carry out a thorough cleaning of their houses, called “sweeping away the dust”. It represents a wish to put away old things, and bid farewell to the old year, and welcome in the Lunar New Year.
They decorate their homes and temples. Some decorate early, but most wait till the eve of the New Year. Doors and windows are festooned with red lanterns, red spring couplets, paper cuttings, and New Year’s paintings to prevent the dreaded monster and evil spirits from entering the building.
This year 2024 is the Year of the Dragon, so images of the dragon appear in the decorations. And you guessed it right, everything is in the color red (and gold for images and Chinese letterings).
The dragon has a highly-respected reputation in Chinese culture, and represents auspiciousness and imperial power. It’s a symbol of dignity, health, honor, success, luck, and strength.
You may think older Chinese people are thrifty, but they seem to spend generously during the Chinese New Year. For example, they buy everyone New Year’s clothes or gifts, whether they are needed or not.
On the days leading up to the festival, many Chinese stores display red dresses, red lanterns, red buntings and flags, and red dragon decors for those buying binges.
Of Chinese ancestry or not, anyone can celebrate with the Chinese world another New Year celebration. It’s always good to have some wholesome fun. So have fun!
Sansen Lee Vendiola