Every year between January 20th and February 20th, the Chinese New Year takes place during the new moon that takes place in between both dates. This special holiday is celebrated all around the world, and leads to many traveling to Chinese cities and towns to celebrate it. Lasting between 1-2 weeks total, there are multiple daily celebrations and festivities that take place every year. Additionally, each year is represented by an animal (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig) in a cycle that repeats every 12 years.
While there are some variations in how it’s celebrated, Chinese New Year is typically a time to honor deities and family ancestors as well as to celebrate a change in year. Many families come together for an annual family reunion, and many follow the tradition of cleaning their house to disperse any ill-fortune and allow good fortune to come in. Other traditions include decorating windows and doors with red paper-cuts and couplets, which are meant to celebrate and bring in good fortune, wealth, happiness, and longevity. People also give gifts and red packets/red envelopes, which typically include money (usually an even number since odd numbers are what are given during funerals) and are usually kept unopened underneath a pillow for seven days (before being opened) because that symbolizes good luck & fortune. Common gifts that are given are fruits, cakes, biscuits, chocolates, and candies; taboo gifts include items associated with funerals (handkerchiefs, black & white, etc.), clocks & watches (and other items that show that time is running out), scissors & knives (or other items that symbolize cutting ties), mirrors, and shoes/sandals (which symbolize that you walk away from a relationship(s)).
In certain regions of China, dumplings are prominently featured in meals during the celebrations of the new year; this is because it’s believed that, by eating dumplings, you’re saying goodbye to the old and hello to the new. Spring rolls are important as well; they’re eaten (typically on the first day of spring as well as during the New Year festivities) to celebrate the arrival of spring. Other dishes include hot pot (a favorite of Emperor Qianlong and beloved by both royalty and common people), noodles (a way of expressing wishes for prosperity for the new year), fish (pronounced similar to “surplus” or “extra,” so eating fish aids you in having a surplus of food & money every year), steamed chicken (it represents reunion & rebirth), and several additional dishes (check out this website for more). Wine and other alcoholic drinks are important during the Chinese New Year Festivities because it is a homophone of “long-lasting” in Chinese, and people toast to long-lasting friendships, happiness, and other positive wishes.
There are also several myths and taboos that surround the holiday. One myth was of an ancient monster named Nian, which is believed to live at the bottom of the sea and come up once a year to feast on humans & animals. In the past, people would escape to the mountains and have feasts with their families to honor and pray to the gods & ancestors to protect and save them from the monster (which is why the annual family reunion & feast for the Chinese New Year is so important). One year, Nian was chasing a lone beggar, who received help from an older woman. The beggar decorated the homes in red and dressed in red, angering the ancient beast, and was aided in scaring Nian away with fireworks. Once the villagers realized that the color red and loud noises scared away the ancient beast, they continued the practice of decorating their homes with red and lighting fireworks at midnight every year since.
Additionally, red couplet poems and carvings of the gods’ names are hung on both sides of the door frames of each house to protect the home from evil spirits who attempt to harm the humans living there.
Several taboos include:
- Saying negative words (so as not to jinx yourself or loved ones and cause misfortune)
- Breaking ceramics or glass (this will break your connection to prosperity or fortune)
- Cleaning or sweeping (this should be done on a designated day before the festival begins; during the festival, this will sweep away any good luck that comes in during the festivities)
- Using scissors, knives, or other sharp objects (this was an old practice to give women a well-deserved break; now it’s believed that you’ll cut off your chances of achieving wealth and success)
- Visiting the wife’s family (returning to the wife’s family means that there are marriage problems and can bring bad luck to the entire family)
- Demanding debt repayment/borrowing money (this allows people to celebrate without worrying; it’s also believed to bring bad luck to both parties involved; borrowing money during this time will mean that you’re going to be borrowing money all year)
- Fighting & crying (peacefully figuring out problems and arguments can help the transition to a new year easier)
- Taking medicine (unless the medicine is necessary, this means that you’ll end up being sick for the entire year)
- Giving New Year blessings to someone who’s still in bed (they’ll be bed-ridden for the entire year)
- Giving certain gifts (clocks/watches, apples, splitting pears, etc.)
Let us know if we got anything wrong, and we’ll correct it as soon as we can! If you’re interested in learning more about other holidays from around the world, check out our Holidays page! And have a happy Chinese New Year and Year of the Pig!
As an recent college graduate who studied media studies and anthropology in college, Briana Maddox enjoys learning about different cultures, traditions, holidays, historical figures, experiences, and opinions. With a vested interest in sharing such learning experiences, Briana created Life & Anthropology in the hopes of helping other people gain a better understanding and working knowledge of such topics.