Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is an important holiday in China and other countries with large Chinese populations. The holiday is the longest in the Chinese calendar. It is celebrated for varying lengths of time in different countries. With seven days of official recognition, Chinese New Year is considered to be the most important festival of the year in The People’s Republic of China.

The traditional Chinese calendar is quite different than the Gregorian calendar used throughout the world today . It was set according to the lunar phases as well as the solar solstices and equinoxes that mark the changing of the four seasons. The Chinese New Year period begins in the middle of the 12th month and ends around the middle of the first month at the apex of the full moon. The Gregorian calendar was adopted by the Chinese government in 1912, and New Year’s Day was officially recognized as occurring on January 1. For a time the Chinese government forbade celebration of the traditional Chinese New Year. However, at the end of the 20th Century, Chinese leaders were more willing to accept this Chinese tradition and in 1996 instituted a weeklong vacation period during the holiday, giving people the opportunity to travel home and to celebrate the new year. The date of the Chinese New Year changes on the Gregorian calendar each year, falling between January 21 and February 20.

Yin and yang, the opposing but complementary forces that make up a harmonious world, also played a role In the calendar, as did the Chinese zodiac, the cycle of twelve stations along the path of the sun through the sky. Each new year is marked by the characteristics of one of twelve animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The animals all have personality traits connected to them. Children are believed to possess the qualities specific to their birth year animal, or “sign”. Each animal also has lucky numbers, colors, months, compass directions and even flowers associated with it.

Chinese New Year is an important time of family and feasting, much in the way that Thanksgiving is in the United States. Homes are given thorough cleanings and special foods symbolic of good luck and prosperity, such as fish and dumplings, are prepared. On New Year’s Eve friends and family gather from far away for the “Reunion” dinner. Red is the color of Chinese New Year and red decorations can be found everywhere, in homes, business and shop windows. These include paper lanterns, pictures depicting good fortune and decorations relating to the animal of the New Year. Similar to Christmas in the West, people exchange gifts. The most common gifts are red envelopes. Red envelopes have money in them and are given to children and retired senior citizens.

Many cultural activities occur during the New Year festival. Setting off firecrackers and fireworks are common during the festival season all over China. Rural areas and small towns include traditional celebrations, such as ancestor worship and dragon dances. In recent years, the festival has evolved from a time devoted to honoring ancestors and renewing family ties, to a period of rest, relaxation and celebration.