Lunar/Chinese New Year Eve
Lunar New Year’s Eve is a joyfully celebrated by Chinese all over the world.
The day is also a public holiday for Bhutan, Brunei, China, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mongolia, Singapore, South Korea, Tahiti, Taiwan, Vietnam
The Lunar New Year’s Eve in the Chinese Lunar calendar is known as chú xī, Year Pass Eve in English. It lasts 15 days and starts with the second or third new moon after the winter solstice. In 2012, of the Gregorian calendar, starts the 4709th Chinese year.
History of Lunar New Year’s Eve
Chinese have used the lunar calendar since the Shang Dinasty, late second millennium BCE. Progress in astronomy and mathematics allowed determining with better accuracy days and months within a year. It was with the Shang dynasty that Chinese began to celebrate the New Year with the first new moon after the winter solstice. This wasn’t the most correct way to determine that date, and with the introduction of advanced astronomic studies in China by the Jesuits in 1645, it was then that the New Year’s Eve date was to be calculated as the second or third new moon after the winter solstice, depending on the year.
The Gregorian calendar has been used by Chinese since 1949, but still the lunar calendar is used to determine the dates of these events like New Year. Each month of the Chinese calendar has the name of a flower, like apricot, peach or lotus. For the years, Chinese give them names of animals. The legend says that all animals were fighting to have their names in the calendar years, but there were only 12 months. So the gods had them placed in the banks of a river and told them that they had to cross the river and in the order that they would arrive at the end, their names would be placed from the first to the 12th year of the cycle of years in the calendar. The cat was afraid of the water. The ox was nearsighted so he was also afraid to cross. Then the rat told the cat that they should jump on the back of the ox and guide him across the river.
The three agreed on the plan. But the rat wanted to have first place and was afraid that the cat would arrive first after the ox came ashore on the other side. So, as the ox entered the water and the cat jumped on his back, the rat pushed the cat in the water and took the ride of the ox, which didn’t see what happened in his back. As the ox arrived to the other side of the river, the rat jumped of the back of the ox and ran for first place, the ox arrived second place an then the other animals ending with the lazy pig. The cat never crossed the river, so he vowed to be a deadly enemy of the rat forever. This was the list of the animals in the order they crossed the river: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.
Lunar New Year’s Eve Traditions, Customs and Activities
During the Chinese New Year’s Eve the most traditional color is red. You can see lots of red lanterns hanging everywhere, people wear red and red envelopes are offered as gifts to children. It is told that the Chinese New Year would start with a fight against a beastly monster called Nien. The beast would come out of his hiding and eat the animals of the farms and attack the people of the villages, especially children. For protection, on New Year’s Eve everybody would put food for the Nien at their doorsteps. One day, villagers noticed that the Nien was afraid of a little child wearing red clothes. So they started chasing him making loud noises as he was afraid of the child. Not only was he afraid of the red color, as he was also afraid of loud noises. So, every New Year’s Eve, Chinese hand red lanterns in their houses, wear red clothes, and release loud firecrackers. Eventually the Nien never came back. Legend says that the Nien was eventually captured by a Taoist monk that uses him as his ride.
From here we can already see the roots of many tradition of the Chinese New Year, the red lanterns, the red clothes and the Dragon Dance that personifies the Nien. New Year celebrations in China last for 15 days. Houses are cleaned very thoroughly and decorated, as everyone takes this opportunity to visit their families and have vacations at home. People buy new clothes, new shoes or even get a new hair cut for a fresh beginning of New Year. On the first day is the welcoming of the gods, and it is believed that if you do not eat meat on this day you will live longer. The older members of the family will give red envelopes to the younger ones with money. Firecrackers are popular and loud on the streets, as lion dance troupes dance everywhere to bring good luck and scare away the bad spirits.
On the second day it is time to pay respect to Chinese ancestors and visit their graves and have prayers for them. The second is believed to be the birthday of all dogs, so Chinese are extra kind to dogs on this day. It is also dedicated to the relationship between in laws, sons in law pay respect to their parents in law, this is also an opportunity for married daughters to visit their parents since by tradition they live in the house of the husband and do not have much time to visit during the year.
Third and fourth day, people stay at home. It is bad luck to visit their families, but it is appropriate to visit the graves of ancestors. Po Woo is the fifth day, people stay at home and welcome the god of Wealth, nobody can visit their relatives or friends, and it brings bad luck to whoever does. From the sixth to the tenth day it is the opportunity to visit relatives and friends without any bad luck problems. It is also proper to visit temples and pray for wealth and good fortune for the New Year.
The seventh day is for farmers to give thanks for their production and ask for better one for next year. It is considered the birthday of Mankind; noodles are to be eaten for longer life and raw fish if you want success. By the eighth day business open again and life goes back to its normal rhythm. But it is still a day to have one more dinner with the whole family. Ninth day is the birthday of Jade Emperor of Heaven, that prolongs into the 10th day.
The 13th day is dedicated to the Chinese God of War, Guan Yu. And it is strictly a day to eat vegetarian food to clean from the sweets and fried foods of the previous days. The 15th and last day is the celebration of the Lantern Festival, when everybody walks the streets at night with lanterns and lights them up in the houses and businesses.