On February 5, 2019, over a billion people in China and millions around the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival. The ancient tradition, whose date is determined by the lunar calendar and falls somewhere between January 21 and February 20 each year, is the longest and most important of all Chinese festivals.
The preparations leading up to this all-important holiday officially kicked off with Little Year on January 28, 2019 and was observed with a day of memorial and prayer ceremonies. Other Little Year activities include cleaning the house to sweep away bad luck and hanging spring couplets – red decorations hung in pairs – on doorways for prosperity. Many homes are also embellished with flowers to celebrate the coming of spring. Since red is believed to keep misfortune and evil spirits at bay, it features prominently in everything from clothing to the lanterns used to decorate residences.
The festivities will begin in earnest on February 4, the night before the Lunar New Year, with a reunion dinner to celebrate family members who often travel great distances, enduring the Chunyun rush, to be together. Often considered the most important meal of the year, the feast is both delicious and rooted in Chinese tradition. A whole chicken symbolizes family togetherness, while long uncut noodles signify longevity. Wealth and prosperity are represented by dumplings that look like ingots (ancient Chinese currency), and spring rolls, which resemble gold bars. The table is usually laden with eight or nine food items because in the Chinese culture, eight represents success, while nine symbolizes infinity. Children receive red envelopes filled with money and inspiring messages from elders and are often allowed to stay up late to watch the spectacular fireworks shows that light up the skies at the stroke of midnight.
The two-week long celebrations will end on February 19 – the day of the full moon – with the Lantern Festival. To celebrate the occasion, residents hang red lanterns in homes and temples and pray for good fortune for themselves and their families. The day ends with parades, the highlight of which is the dragon dance. The traditional dance involves using strategically placed poles to manipulate a colorful dragon made of silk and paper. Since the animal is considered lucky, communities try to maximize their good fortune by building the longest possible dragon.
Every Chinese New Year is also dedicated to one of twelve animals. According to one ancient folklore, the tradition began when Lord Buddha invited all animals to join him for the New Year celebrations. He honored the twelve that came – Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig – by naming a year after each. The zodiac signs are believed to shape the character and fate of the individuals born in that year.
2019 ushers in the Year of the Pig, the last animal to arrive to the party and, therefore, the last in the rotation of the 12-year zodiac cycle. The sign includes those born in 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007 & 2019. Those born under this sign are believed to be considerate, responsible, independent, energetic, and optimistic. While they don’t waste money, they are materialistic and often crave expensive things. However, the desire to own high-priced items also motivates Pig people to work hard and succeed in life.
According to Chinesenewyear.net, the year of a person’s zodiac sign is traditionally his/her most unlucky year. Hence, they predict people born under the sign of the Pig will experience some setbacks in 2019 and caution them against making significant changes in their career or personal lives. The experts also warn those born under this sign to look after their health and advise them to maintain a healthy diet and exercise. While the year may prove frustrating for many, the fruits of all the hard work will be reaped in 2020, which is predicted to be extremely lucky for all those born under this sign.
Though commonly called “Chinese New Year,” the day is also celebrated in neighboring Asian countries like Thailand and Singapore. Though Vietnam’s New Year celebration called “Tet,” follows similar traditions, the celebrations last for just seven days.
Xin Nian Kuai Le! (Happy New Year!)
Resources: chinahighlights.com, chinesenewyear.net, publicholidays.com