Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year or Spring Festival
Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year is the longest and most important holiday on the Chinese calendar. The festival begins on the day of the new moon which is the first day of the first month of the Chinese year and ends on the full moon 15 days later culminating in a traditional Lantern Festival. Chinese New Year in 2012 began on Monday, January 23rd. It is also a dragon year – the most auspicious animal in the Chinese zodiac.
The Year Of The Dragon In The Chinese Lunar Calendar
The Chinese lunar calendar has been in use for centuries and predates the International Calendar, based upon the Gregorian calendar and used by most of the rest of the world. The calendar uses a 12-year cycle. 12 animals are used to symbolize each of the 12 years and comprise the animals of the Chinese zodiac. There is a legend that the Lord Buddha requested all the animals to come to a meeting on Chinese New Year. Only twelve animals came, and therefore He named a year after each of them. 2012 for example is the Year of the Dragon. 2011 was the Year of the Rabbit and 2013 will be the Year of the Snake. Chinese Lunar New 2012 began on January 23rd
Countries such as the United States, Australia and Canada and the United States do not recognize Chinese New Year as an official holiday, however major celebrations and festivities take place in the larger cities with ‘Chinatown’ or significant Chinese immigrant populations. The national postal services in these countries traditionally issue Chinese Spring Festival stamps featuring an animal of the Chinese zodiac. For Chinese New Year 2012, the Year of the Dragon, they will of course feature an image of a dragon.
Chinese New Year Traditions
Customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese New Year vary widely according to region. There are however many common practices which are familiar to most Chinese throughout the world who celebrate the holiday.
Traditionally, families thoroughly clean their houses prior to the beginning of the New Year to symbolically sweep away any bad luck in hopes of a prosperous new year. Entrances to homes and business are often decorated with red and gold colored paper banners which have Chinese couplets written on them in Chinese calligraphy. These are displayed at the sides and top of the main entrance. Typically these will have as their themes ‘happiness’, ‘long life’ and ‘wealth’.
On Chinese New Years’ Eve families will gather together for a feast which often includes such foods as fish, pork, duck, chicken, noodles and sweet delicacies. Many of these foods are symbolic such as the noodles which symbolize long life. Families may end the night by setting off fireworks. Some households may stay awake throughout the night to welcome in the New Year of the Dragon. They will often play mahjong and other games to help pass the time. On this night, or the next morning, children will wish their parents and other elders in the family a happy and prosperous new year and receive red envelopes from them.
Red envelopes are a traditional Chinese gift most often given at Chinese New Year and at wedding. The red envelopes contain money in amounts considered to be auspicious numbers. For example 400 or 4000 in currency would never be given as the number four has a similar sound to the word for death in Mandarin Chinese. During Chinese New Year, red envelopes are most often given by parents and other elders to their younger children. In many families however this is reversed once the children are grown and their parents are elderly. Now, the children will return home for the New Year celebration and give red envelopes to their parents.
New clothing is often given to children by their parents for Chinese New Year and adults purchase new clothing as well to symbolize the New Year. Succeeding days of Spring Festival festivities are then occupied with visits to relatives and friends or staying home with the family and receiving visitors themselves.
The 15th day of the New Year is the new moon. This is the final day of Chinese New Year and is the day of the Lantern Festival. In 2012, the date of the Lantern Festival falls on Monday, February 6th. This is celebrated at night with lantern displays. Traditionally children would carry lanterns, often made by themselves or their families, in a parade.
Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Chinese New Year is a festive and widely celebrated holiday and it generally a time of optimism and joy. Its’ atmosphere and feeling can be compared to that of Christmas to those more familiar with western traditions. If you are lucky enough to be invited to participate in a Chinese New Year celebration don’t pass up the chance to participate in welcoming in The Year of the Dragon. You can even have your own Chinese New Year party. It's easy to do by creating a Chinese theme with inexpensive Chinese New Year decorations.
You may also want consider preparing some red envelopes if children will be present. You can learn Chinese and greet your Chinese friends and acquaintances saying Gong Xi Fa Cai! The approximate translation is “wishing you prosperity”.