Chinese New Years

Author: Grace Carter
Last update: 09/11/2008

Celebrated by:

Chinese people around the globe. Many East Asians-Mongolians and Koreans for example-have similar holidays that fall on the same day.


Date:

Don't let China's ballooning economy convince you that its citizens are all 18-hour-shifts and no play. Chinese New Year lasts 15 action-packed days, and requires all the stamina of a New Orleans Mardi Gras. For users of the Gregorian calendar, CNY seems to begin on a different day every year, but just like the convoluted pathway of carts at a dim sum joint, there's method to the madness: the festivities commence on the second new moon after the winter solstice. That is, unless there's an intercalary eleventh or twelfth month in the lead-up to the New Year, in which case it falls on the third new moon after the Solstice. (Don't stress about how to figure it out, though. This won't occur again until 2033.)


Upcoming Chinese New Years

4707

Ox

January 26, 2009

4708

Tiger

February 10, 2010

4709

Hare/Rabbit

February 3, 2011

4710

Dragon

January 23, 2012

4711

Snake

February 10, 2013

4712

Horse

January 31, 2014

4713

Ram/Sheep

February 19, 2015

4714

Monkey

February 9, 2016

4715

Rooster

January 28, 2017

4716

Dog

February 16, 2018

4717

Boar

February 5, 2019

4718

Rat

January 25, 2020


How to say Happy New Year:

The most common CNY greeting is pronounced "Kung hei fat choy" in Cantonese. It means "Congratulations and be prosperous." Wish your Mandarin speaking friend a "sin nian yu kwai" or "Happy New Year." Then glow with satisfaction as he or she appreciates your language skills, telling you "how bahng ah." ("Wow, that's so cool!)


History:

Chinese New Year is old. Older than your grandmammy's dentures. Older than Mohammed, Buddha, Jesus, and maybe even Abraham. It has been called the longest running party ever. Opinions vary regarding the precise date of its nascence, but most scholars agree it began between 3000 and 2000 BC. About.com's Chinese culture expert, Jun Shan, says the celebration is at least as old as the Chinese calendar, which came into being 4699 years ago, thanks to an overachieving Emperor named Huang Ti. In addition to creating the calendar, he standardized Chinese coinage, measures, and calligraphy, brought the bow and arrow to the Chinese army, and unified the feudal system.


Values and traditions:

During the Spring Festival, families, friends and even foes come together to shake off the cobwebs of last year, and woo good luck for the new one. The two-week celebration, steeped in traditional symbolism and superstition, requires endurance, patience (for lengthy conversations with distant relatives), and a flexible stomach lining The party starts the day before New Year's day, with a ritual house cleaning to expunge any lingering bad luck from the previous year, a practice which invariably sends most pre-adolescent Chinese kids scampering to the nearest arcade, to avoid such effective demon-busting activities as cleaning the toilet. The "sweeping of the grounds," as it's known on the mainland, is followed by a feast of many, many courses, shared with pals and relatives. Certain foods are popular because they're homophones. The name for a popular black seaweed dish sounds similar to the Chinese word for "wealth." Likewise, the word for oyster sounds like "good business." Other yummies consumed include sticky rice, dumplings, steamed cake and candied melon.

At midnight, the brooms must be put away, all the lights turned on, and the windows and doors opened. In comes the year's good luck, out go all the bad spirits.

Day one: To start the new year right, get a haircut and don your best clothing-even better if it's red, the lucky color of New Year. Good kids get lei si, red envelopes filled with lucky money. Similarly, during the Persian new year festival, Norooz, older generations hand out crisp bills from the Koran to the younger folks.

It wouldn't be Chun Ch'ieh without a party-starting Lion Dance. They're easy to find. Head to any Chinatown in the world on the first day of the lunar new year, and watch as a colorful lion (i.e. some guys hidden inside a massive puppet) wiggles and stamps down the streets. Dodge the flying Choi Cheng, the green vegetables the business people fling at the lion, the color of which is meant to symbolize money. After sniffing the leafy offerings, the lion "eats" them, which is another way of saying nudges them around and abandons them to decay on the street. The dance, around since 1000 AD or so, is intended to usher in a prosperous business year by warding off evil spirits. Kids help out by igniting firecrackers, which are meant to spook the demons.

Day two: The birthday of all dogs. Also, time to pray to ancestors and all the gods.

Days three and four: If you're a married man, it's time to swallow your pride and make nice with your in-laws. Respect, bruthas!

Day five: Today is Po Woo. Business savvy Chinese stay at home to worship the God of Wealth. No venturing outside-visiting anyone today will bring bad luck to both parties.

Day six: Visiting resumes. More food is eaten.

Day seven: Damn, the Chinese can party. Today is EVERYBODY'S birthday. That's right. Eat some noodles to promote longevity.

Day eight: Visit more relatives. Eat more.

Day nine: Make offerings to the Jade Emperor, the supreme Taoist deity.

Days ten through twelve: Repeat the instructions from Day eight. Maybe host a dinner party or two.

Day thirteen: Down some mustard greens and a bowl of congee to cleanse your system after two weeks of binge eating.

Day fourteen: Get crafty. Tomorrow is the Lantern Festival-are you ready? We hear a candle inside a cheese grater makes a pretty light pattern.

Day fifteen: At this point, if you can still walk after all that food, check out a lantern festival. Children carry homemade lanterns through the street-a tranquil, attractive ending to the frantic pace of the last two weeks.


Survival tools:

Fake money to offer to ancestors and gods
Firecrackers
Lettuce
Flexible stomach lining


Don't do it! New Year's Day taboos:

Giving clocks or watches.
Knives or scissors in the kitchen on Day One-you might accidently cut the good luck of the New Year.
Washing your hair-you'll wash away good fortune.
Crying-the superstition is, cry today and you'll be crying all year.
Writing or saying the Chinese word for the number four-it sounds like the word for "death."
Wearing white, the color of mourning.

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