Chinese New Year is here and today Chinese homes appear lit up with lanterns and other decoration to celebrate the onset of the Year of the Earth Pig. As the name suggests, the Chinese New Year is the most important festival for the Chinese. While the Christian new year is based on the solar calendar, the Chinese New Year is based on the lunisolar calendar which indicates both the moon phase and the time of the solar year. This year Chinese New Year falls on February 5, 2019.

The lunar month is about 2 days shorter than a solar month, and an extra month is inserted every few years to catch up with the solar calendar. Hence, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year. Typically, it falls between January 21 and February 20. The celebration starts from the New Year’s Eve and will last for around 15 days until the middle of the first month. The Chinese New Year is one of the world’s most prominent and celebrated festivals, with the largest annual mass human migration in the world. Besides China, the day is also celebrated in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mauritius, Australia, and the Philippines.

The Chinese New Year or the Chinese Zodiac is dedicated to a particular animal each year. Each animal in a Chinese New Year is paired with one of the five elements of Fire, Water, Metal (Gold), Wood and Earth. In the Chinese Lunar New Year 2019, the animal is the Pig.

Significance:

The exact beginning of the Chinese New Year is unclear, and the centuries-old festival is associated with several myths and customs. Traditionally, the festival was a time to honour deities as well as ancestors. It is believed that the festival started from as early as Emperor Yao and Shun (~2300 BC). A popular legend says that the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the “Year”. The “Year”, which resembled an ox with a lion head, lived in the sea and came out at the night of the New Year’s Eve to harm people, animals, and properties. People then found out that the “Year” fears the colour red, fire, and loud sounds. For self-protection, people formed the habit of posting red Dui Lian in front of their house as well as launching fireworks and hanging lanterns at year end.

How it is celebrated:

The festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm across Asia and other parts of the world. The evening preceding the Lunar New Year’s Day is an occasion for Chinese families to gather for the annual reunion dinner. Families also clean their houses thoroughly to sweep away any ill-fortune and “huiqi,” or inauspicious breaths, and make way for incoming good luck. Doors and windows are decorated with red colour paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of “good fortune” or “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity”. Lighting firecrackers and giving money in the traditional red paper envelops are other popular activities. In terms of food, dumplings (especially with vegetarian fillings), are a prominent feature in the meals celebrating the festival. Interestingly, on the New Year’s Eve,  the extended family joins around the table for a meal that includes a fish as the last course. The fish is symbolic of abundance and therefore not meant to be eaten.

Typically, the Chinese New Year’s celebration is divided into the following parts: Before the New Year’s Day, people shop, clean and decorates their houses and offices. On the New Year’s Eve, there is family dinner, Shou Sui (family watching the New Year come in) and fireworks. Then, the first day of the New Year is celebrated by either staying at home, or by visiting family, friends and older relatives. The second day is when people host a religious ceremony to honour the gods. Married females usually visit their parents. The third day involves a ceremony to honour the ancestors. Then, on the fifteenth day, people celebrate the Yuan Xiao festival, also called The Lantern festival, which marks the end of the New Year celebrations.