On February 12, 2021, over a billion people in China and millions worldwide will celebrate the first day of the Chinese New Year. Also known as the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, the exact date of the 15-day commemoration, which marks the end of winter, is determined by the lunar calendar. It falls somewhere between late January to mid-February each year.
The over 3,500-year-old holiday is believed to have begun after some villagers chased away a terrifying monster named "Nian" with loud noises, fire, and red banners on the eve of the Lunar New Year.
With millions of city residents using the mandatory seven-day break to visit family and friends living in rural areas, Chinese New Year usually triggers the world's largest seasonal human migration. However, this year, the spring travel rush, or Chunyun — which starts about 15 days before the Chinese New Year and ends almost 25 days after — has been somewhat subdued. In a bid to quell the recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases, the government has imposed a series of strict rules, including requiring those visiting rural areas to spend two weeks in quarantine and paying for their own coronavirus tests. As a result, many city workers, unable to afford the added cost, have decided to forgo the annual trip home.
The festivities will officially kick off with "Little Year" on February 4, 2021. After conducting ceremonial prayers, many people will spring clean homes to sweep away bad luck and hang red decorations or couplets — symbolizing prosperity — on their doorways. Since red is believed to bring good fortune, the color is prominently featured in everything from clothing to the lanterns used to adorn residences.
The New Year celebrations will commence in earnest with a reunion dinner on February 11, 2021. Often considered the year’s most important meal, the family feast is rooted in Chinese tradition. A whole chicken is symbolic of family togetherness, whereas long, uncut noodles represent long life. Wealth and prosperity are represented with dumplings and spring rolls, which resemble gold bars. The rest of the meal is usually determined by the family, but generally consist of eight or nine dishes. In the Chinese culture, eight, which has a similar pronunciation with Fa — meaning wealth or fortune — is considered the most auspicious number, while nine represents longevity and eternality. The holiday is especially popular with children who get a week-long vacation and receive red envelopes containing money from their elders.
The fun will end on February 26, 2021, with the Lantern Festival. As the name indicates, it is celebrated by hanging lanterns — red, of course — outside homes and temples and praying for the family's well-being. The evening is marked with parades, the highlight of which is the dragon dance. Since the animal is considered lucky, communities try to maximize their good fortune by building the longest possible dragon.
Every Chinese year is characterized by one of twelve animals, as well as one of five elements: metal, water, wood, fire, or earth. One ancient folklore attributes the animal-based zodiac to Lord Buddha. According to the myth, the religious leader invited all animals to celebrate the New Year and honored the twelve that came — Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig — by naming a year after them.
2021 is the Year of the Metal Ox, the second animal in the 12-year zodiac rotation. The sign also includes those born in 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, and 2009. "Ox" people are believed to be conscientious, reliable, strong, and trustworthy. They are purportedly also very opinionated and stubborn, and dislike failing or being challenged.
Though commonly called “Chinese New Year,” the day is also observed in neighboring Asian countries like Thailand and Singapore. Though Vietnam’s New Year celebration called “Tet,” follows similar traditions, the festivities last for just seven days.
Xin Nian Kuai Le! (Happy New Year!)
Resources: chinesenewyear.net, wikipedia.org, travelchinaguide.com, almanac.com