How is the Chinese New Year celebrated?

The Lunar New Year Festivities are the most important of the Eastern calendar. Each year is dedicated to a sign of the Chinese zodiac: this is the one of the Land Dog. Here we will know how the Chinese new year celebrated.

How is the Chinese New Year celebrated

The Chinese finalize the preparations to receive the next 16 of February the Year of the Dog with diverse festivals in all the national geography, some with the ice like protagonist, whereas in others the fire is the one that dominates the celebrations.

In the central city of Chongqing, on the banks of the Yangtze, for example, the so-called fire dragon dance has been recreated, in which a fabric frame that embodies the mythical animal danced under a shower of incandescent iron filings. In this report, we include the traditions that follow more faithfully in that country.

What day is the Chinese New Year celebrated?

Each year, between January 21 and February 20 (the festival usually falls within this period, and the year 2019 falls on February 5., one-fifth of the world’s population gathers to celebrate the Chinese New Year 2019 Year of the Pig.

How long Chinese new year is celebrated?

The official holidays in China are only three, but many companies give holidays from New Year’s Eve (除夕 chuxi) to the eighth day of the Chinese New Year (初八 chuba). It is a time full of action and the celebrations can be extended until the fifteenth day, when the Festival of Lanterns (Yuánxiāojié 元宵节) is celebrated.

Although it is also very important in Vietnam, Korea, Mongolia or any other region where the lunar calendar has a great weight, we will focus on the most famous activities and celebrations of Chinese culture .

How is the Chinese New Year celebrated?

The most important thing is to celebrate as a family

Family ties and the concept of a united family are of great importance in China, and the Chinese New Year is no exception. It is always celebrated accompanied by family members. The occasion is used to return to the villages and visit relatives and friends who had not seen for a long time. Although they live far away, the New Year is definitely the best time to be all together. In Chinese culture it is believed that the more people and the fuss there is, the greater prosperity will be brought to the family.

Spring movement

Workers from other cities are always looking for a place to spend the New Year as a family again. Since the 1980s, the traffic of trains, cars and planes during the New Year holidays has become the largest human migration on the planet, one billion people moving inside China from one place to another! There is even a special term, spring movement (chunyun 春运) , to call the collapse of these dates. If we want to get a train ticket, it’s quite an impossible mission!

spring movement

Clean and decorate the house before New Year’s Eve

Cleaning the house is a very important custom before welcoming the New Year. With the cleaning you can eliminate all the bad luck accumulated since the previous year, therefore you have to clean every corner to get off to a good start.

As in the West we decorate our houses with garlands, Christmas trees or nativity scenes, the Chinese also have the habit of decorating their homes. The difference is that the decorations of the Chinese New Year have a clear objective: to attract good luck.

Chinese New Year couplets: Duilian

One of these decorations are the New Year’s couplets (duilian 对联) . They are poems and congratulations, most handmade calligraphies, which are written on strips of red paper. They try to express happy messages good wishes, such as success with studies, attract wealth, health and vitality, happiness…

Chinese New Year couplets
In this typical house in northern China we can see the famous couplets on both sides of the door and on top of it.On the sides the phrase reads

If we want to write a poem ourselves, the words have to rhyme, the two verses have to have the same length, the lexical category of the words has to be the same, the tones have to be inverses between verses and we also have to know games of words in Chinese to make a good couplet. An art that requires a lot of practice and talent!

Paste the character of prosperity: Fu 福

character of prosperity Fu

Another famous decoration consists of hitting back the character of prosperity, “Fu” 福 on the door or on the wall of a house or business to symbolize that you wish to attract happiness.

Other decorations

Also very common are the New Year paintings made by hand (nianhua 年画), with images of tigers and protective animals, children having fun or portraits of popular gods protecting family and happiness; We can hang Chinese knots (中国 结 zhongguojie), cut paper (jianzhi 剪纸) and Chinese lanterns everywhere; or buy and paste posters with congratulations and other Chinese phrases. All these decorations are usually red! (Read what does the color red mean for the Chinese?)

The most common congratulations that are going to be heard these days are:

新年 快乐 xīn nián kuài him Happy New Year!
恭喜 发财 gōng xǐ fā cai Prosperity and good luck!
好 好 guò nián hǎo Have a good year!

The big New Year’s Eve dinner

The big New Year Eve dinner

The New Year’s Eve dinner is called Nianyefan ( 年夜饭) . This feast is the most important dinner of the whole year . Although now each family prepares the dishes they want or even book dinner in city restaurants, the dishes are prepared well in advance for a traditional New Year’s Eve dinner.

Typical dishes of Nianyefan

Above all, fish dishes (usually freshwater fish) that symbolize prosperity, sweet niangao ( 年糕) , a type of cake made of glutinous rice that symbolizes a better life every year and Chinese dumplings are essential (jiaozi 饺子) . The latter are prepared between the whole family and are the protagonists of the New Year’s table , because its shape is reminiscent of old silver ingots. And of course, Chinese liqueur (baijiu 白酒) can not miss at the table!

Customs and traditions about dinner

The most common way to show your respect and good wishes to your interlocutor is to say hello by joining both hands in front. This typical greeting of the new year is called bainian (拜年).
The concept of family reunion is very important, so dinner is not started until all members are present.

The concept of family reunion is very important, so dinner is not started until all members are present.

Also, the elders are the ones who must give the first bite of the banquet . During dinner, young people should show their respect to older members and dedicate a few words full of good wishes and health. With a glass they propose a toast to the elders, one by one, wishing them a long life , good health and good luck. Sometimes this toast is also accompanied by a bow. In response, elders also wish young people luck and success.

Dinner usually lasts until twelve, just as the countdown to the new year begins. Since the 1980s, it has become fashionable in mainland China to watch the New Year Gala ( 春节 联欢晚会) of CCTV , China’s central television . It has multiple shows of traditional music, pop, dances, sketches of humor, tricks of magic or the speech of the president of the People’s Republic of China. The program lasts more than five hours and is seen by more than 700 million people.

Some young people believe that this gala is too official and do not seem as interesting as the older ones, so many young people choose to see the finery of other chains such as those of Shanghai , Hunan, Hong Kong or Taiwan television , where they invite to famous singers and actors and there is not so much political content .

The call of Buddha

On February 16, the Chinese New Year begins, a tradition that has 5,000 years of history and is based on the lunar calendar and the practices of Taoism. Each year is dedicated to a sign of the Chinese zodiac, composed of twelve animals. This year is the Land Dog.

In China the Lunar New Year celebrations are the most important and are called the Spring Festival (Chun Jie) in which the main thing is the reunion of families if possible in the place of origin.

Where do these zodiacal animals come from? There are several versions, the most widespread today is that Buddha, on his deathbed, called all the animals of the Earth. First came the rat, then the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the serpent, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog and the pig, in this order. As a reward he converted them into the twelve signs of the zodiac

Another version, instead of the Buddha, makes the story of the Jade Emperor (Yu Di) one of the main gods of the Taoist pantheon.

The Land Dog

This year corresponds to the Land Dog . The Chinese horoscope is based on twelve-year cycles, which are repeated indefinitely. From February 16, 2018 to February 4, 2019 corresponds to the dog, an animal that represents tenderness, fidelity and happiness.

In 2018 the Dog is dominated by the Earth, a conservative element little given to the great changes. That is to say, it will be a year in which security will be the most important and will be marked by the increase of conservative social movements.

These are the twelve animals and some of the years in which they are celebrated:

The rat

… 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020 …

The Ox

… 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021 …

Tiger

… 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022 …

Rabbit

… 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023 …

The Dragon

… 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024 …

The snake

… 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025 …

Horse

… 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026 …

The goat

… 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027 …

Monkey

… 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028 …

The rooster

… 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029 …

The dog

… 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030 …

The pig

… 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031 …

According to the western horoscope it is impossible to know the age of a person only knowing the sign that corresponds to him. An Aries, for example, can be of any age. But with the Chinese zodiac, being periods of 12 years, it is very easy to know the age of a person if we know his sign.

If someone tells us that he is Rabbit, let’s say, and from his appearance it seems that he is in the 60’s or so, according to the previous table we see that he could have been born in 1939, 1951 or 1963. If he were 1939 he would be 79 years old, too old. If he were 1963, he would be 55 years old, but he looks more. Undoubtedly it is 1951 and in 2018 it will turn 67 years old.

Everyone wants to be dragons

The Dragon is the only mythical animal of the twelve of the Chinese zodiac. In China it is associated with the Divine Emperor , health, good luck … and it is thought that they will be the leaders of the future. That’s why most parents want their children to be dragons and do their best to be born in that year.

This supposes that lately there are more dragons than any other zodiacal animal (up to 20%), so that the fifths of this sign, being more numerous, have more difficulties to get a place in nurseries and private schools, for example, and they have to work harder in an already very competitive society with 1.4 billion inhabitants.

Spring Party

All the festivities surrounding the Lunar New Year are known as the Spring Festival (Chun Jie). Its origin is in the North of China, at the time that the cold winters ended and the temperatures began to soften. In an eminently agricultural society, more than 4,000 years ago the annual sacrifices to the deities were already ingrained to demand a good harvest.

Today in these dates the biggest exodus of the year takes place. Millions of Chinese, who have 7 days of vacation, travel to their birthplaces to meet their families cramming roads, planes and railways.

Celebrations always revolve around family banquets , usually composed of 8 plates or multiples of 8, the number of good luck. You can not miss the “jiaozi” steamed dumplings stuffed with vegetables and meat that make all the members of the family, and some fish dish, which in Chinese is called “yu” and sounds like “abundance.”

Firecrackers and rockets

It is known that the Chinese invented gunpowder, which they already used for medicinal and recreational purposes in the ninth century.

The passion for controlled explosions has reached our days and has been exported to the whole world. A popular party without a display of fireworks is hardly conceived . For the Chinese, the rumble they cause frightens the evil spirits and leaves the free passage to good luck.

The downside is that used firecrackers without control often cause accidents and fires. That is why its use is regulated, at least that is what is intended. Throughout China, private fireworks are heavily restricted.

Lanterns

The Spring Festival lasts fifteen days and ends with the so-called Festival of Lanterns (Yuan Xiao Jie). In all the houses, the lanterns, mainly red, serve as decoration to receive the New Year. They are also given to children.

The traditional ones are made of silk or paper and inside they carry a candle. The most modern ones are made of plastic with a led flashlight. They began being spherical in the form of balloons or squares in the shape of boxes, but today they represent all kinds of structures, from the animal of the year to the everlasting dragon.

Despite the low temperatures of northern China, these days open-air lantern competitions are held in many parks.

Acerolas

Another feature of these festivities is the sale of steel in street stalls. They are not exclusive to the Spring Festival, but they are very representative of it.

In Chinese they are called Tang Hulu (Acerola Sugared). Acerolas are apples-like fruits , but smaller, and they are sold covered with caramel and strung on stick skewers.

They can not miss the fairs that are held these days with the temples and are the gift that all children ask their grandparents, in addition to the traditional paper mills.

They say that they were born in the Song dynasty (960-1279) and over time they have changed very little, except today they are made with other fruits, always caramelized.

You can not miss the fireworks

Throw fireworks and firecrackers (爆竹 baozhu) during the celebrations of the Chinese New Year is a classic with a long history; If you do not hear the noise of the firecrackers it seems that there is no party !

In the imperial era each family threw firecrackers on the first day of the New Year to scare the evil spirits and attract good luck (in China, noise is synonymous with life and joy). Now they can be bought at any New Year’s market or store, even over the Internet. The noise of the firecrackers is heard on either side during the first fifteen days of the lunar year, and they are great fun for the children.

In some urban areas it is forbidden to throw firecrackers because of the risk of fires or to avoid accidents (every year there are cases of deaths and injuries due to this type of accident). In urban areas of Taiwan and Hong Kong it is forbidden to throw firecrackers, but in rural areas it is allowed. In Mainland China the laws change according to the local government. In some cities you can only throw firecrackers at specific dates or times , in certain places or certain types of firecrackers. In the villages there are no restrictions and there is always a great atmosphere and fuss.

Chinese New Year Songs

New Year’s music is another classic that is heard everywhere in China . Like Christmas carols in Spain, there is no child who has not learned to sing them in school. In advertisements, shopping centers and stores sound continuously.

The most famous “Christmas carol” is that of 新年 好呀 (Xīn nián hǎo ya Feliz feliz nuevo!) , But there are many more and there are many versions, some sung by celebrities. Here you have two videos with ” Chinese carols ” . The first is more modern and the second contains several songs, although it is a little older. In both video clips you can see very well how is the atmosphere of joy and fun of the Chinese New Year.

The red envelope during the Chinese New Year

Another custom of the Chinese New Year is to prepare the famous red envelopes (hongbao 红包) to give money to the younger ones . Adults give money to children (or young students) in their family, such as nephews and grandchildren, but also to the children of their friends and neighbors.

The money is wrapped in a red paper envelope that symbolizes good luck . Before giving the red envelopes, the lucky ones greet with a bow and the Bainian greeting, wishing the adults a happy year. It is essential to prepare several red envelopes before going to a family dinner or a meeting of friends during the Chinese New Year just in case there are children.

Apart from the red envelopes with money, among older relatives and friends are often also exchange some kind of gift, usually food or candy . They are usually delivered when visiting the house of one of them, and it is important to consider the gifts that should never be made to a Chinese so as not to screw up.

The sweet figurines made with glutinous rice paste are called miansu (面塑) and it is a small detail that can be given at this time.The sweet figurines made with glutinous rice paste are called miansu (面塑) and it is a small detail that can be given at this time.

Worshiping the ancestors is essential

The cult of the ancestors (jizu 祭祖 o baizu 拜祖) is a very important part of traditional Chinese society and Confucianism . Many people continue to worship their loved ones once they are deceased because according to Chinese beliefs, even if they live in another world, they still have the same needs as humans: food, clothing, money … and, of course, to be in contact with their family. All this must be provided by their living descendants; In return, the ancestors will protect their relatives and descendants.

Worshiping the ancestors is essential

The celebrations of the Chinese New Year have as a backbone the reunion of the family, and this includes the ancestors. Details such as date, rites or offerings vary by area.

For example, in some places before the New Year’s Eve dinner there is a reverence on a special altar where the tablets with the names of the ancestors are found. Food, drink and incense are left on as a sign of respect. Members can tell their ancestors what they want, like a normal conversation between humans, but on their knees and thanking them. Good luck is asked for and this process is done one by one, from the oldest to the youngest .

In other places, on the first day of the new year, the tombs of the ancestors are visited, a bow is made and paper money is burned to send it to the world of the spirits.

The activities of the Chinese New Year last half a month

The activities to celebrate the Chinese New Year never end, they last until the end of the first fortnight of the first lunar month. The celebrations and activities change according to the region of China in which we find ourselves.

The most typical are the traditional fairs such as traditional food fairs , fairs lights and Chinese lanterns ( 灯会) , flower shows, traditional clothing, firecrackers or even ice sculptures in northern China and Manchuria. They are all very colorful and lively!

The activities of the Chinese New Year last half a month
Lanterns and lanterns in the city of Weihai, Shangdong, to congratulate the Chinese New Year.

In addition, the most famous shows include the fun dances of the dragons (longwu 龙 舞), the dances of the lions (wushi 舞狮), the walks of tightrope walkers on stilts or the traditional yangge dances (秧歌 舞).

In these days many people also approach the Taoist temples or popular sanctuaries to worship the gods and ask them for a year with good luck. One of the protagonist gods of the New Year is the God of Fortune (caishen 财神) , so do not be surprised if the faithful fight to be in the front row to worship these gods; the first to do so will be the luckiest.

In Spain in the last two years the Chinese Cultural Center of Madrid has begun to organize special activities, and every year the activities go further . Parades, markets and special menus are organized in Chinese restaurants in the capital. There are also shows such as the Chinese New Year concert, and we can check their website.

The Chinese New Year is a moment of happiness in which all the way you wish good luck to your friends and family. This year 2019 is the year of the pig and marts falls on Feb. 5, so during this time we have to avoid any kind of discussion, fight or negative behavior, but will start the year with bad luck!

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