The Lunar New Year, commonly referred to as Chinese New Year, which is based on the ancient Chinese lunar calendar, is the longest and most celebrated of national holidays in China. Each year across China, there are an average of 2.1 billion trips made, as families travel to spend the holiday together, making it the largest annual human migration.
Many other Asian countries, particularly those with a large Chinese population, such as Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines, also celebrate this holiday with a variety of festive activities and traditions. Even San Francisco, which has a population made up of around 20% Chinese, puts a significant amount of effort into the celebrations, making their parade the largest outside of Asia.
There are many myths and legends about the origins of Chinese New Year, with the most popular one telling the tale of a small village in China protecting themselves against a mythical beast, by hanging red lanterns and scrolls outside of their front doors, as well as by using lots of noisy firecrackers.
Like any other festive celebration, there are many traditions that are related to Chinese New Year, although these can vary greatly depending on which region in China they originated from. A New Year’s Eve dinner is very common amongst Chinese families, and certain dishes are said to bring luck, fortune and longevity. Noodles are usually always served, with their long length signifying a long and happy life, while fish and dumplings are thought to bring prosperity.
Red packets, also known as ‘ang pow’, decorated with extravagant Chinese colours and symbols, are given by married couples to unmarried youngsters. These packets usually contain money, the total of which must be an even number, as odd numbered sums of money are usually given to grieving families at funerals. The number 8 is considered to be lucky, and if you receive a red packet in the US, it will most likely contain $8.
Firecrackers, thought to ward off evil spirits, are used in abundance during Chinese New Year. However, this led to many accidents and injuries, which resulted in many countries banning the private use of fireworks. These countries still have public firework displays to celebrate the new year, keeping this ancient tradition alive.
The clothes that people wear during Chinese New Year are also important. Bright colours, usually featuring a variety of shades of red, are generally worn, as red is believed to chase away bad fortune. New clothes, to signify a new beginning, are also usually worn during this holiday. These new clothes also tend to be worn during the annual family portrait, which is another tradition. This photo is usually taken in front of the house, with the oldest male in the family sat in the centre of the group.
If you attend a Chinese New Year parade, which many Chinatowns around the world host each year, you are likely to see either a dragon dance or a lion dance. This is one long costume worn by a few people at once, featuring a winding dragon or lion moving to loud drum beats and the clashing of cymbals. It is said that these loud noises, coupled with aggressive dancing, will evict evil spirits.
Superstitions are important in Chinese culture, which is why there is such an abundance of New Year traditions. If you have never celebrated Chinese New Year, find out what’s being hosted in the Chinatown near you, and go along to experience the fun and great energy that is always present at Lunar New Year festivities.