By Sandi Khine
Xīn nián kuài lè! Marked by red envelopes, special festivities, and an abundance of food and drink, Chinese New Year is a valued opportunity to celebrate and get together for families around the world. Chinese New Year has been celebrated for thousands of years, but its exact origins are shrouded in legends and stories. Some believe that celebrating the new year in China began during the Shang Dynasty, from 1766 B.C. to 1122 B.C., but others believe it began even earlier than that, with Emperor Yao and Emperor Shun in 2300 B.C.
In China, Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival, celebrated at the end of the winter and marking the beginning of spring planting, harvests, warmer weather, and new starts. It is also known as the Lunar New Year because the holiday is celebrated based on the Lunar calendar: the exact date can range from Jan. 21 to Feb. 20. This year, Chinese New Year will occur on Feb. 5.
The Chinese New Year celebration of 2019 will be a celebration of the year of the pig. The pig is the 12th and last position in the Chinese Zodiac, which cycles every 12 years (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig). In one myth of deciding the order of the zodiac, the Jade Emperor said the way to determine that would be the order in which the animals arrived at his party. The pig was the last one and had to take the twelfth place. With their chubby faces and big ears, pigs are important signs of fortune and wealth.
There are several traditions surrounding the celebration of Chinese New Year to bring in good luck and increased fortune for the new year. Many of these traditions encourage getting ready for a fresh beginning. Setting off firecrackers and fireworks during the New Year are used to scare away evil spirits and to increase the spirit of festivity. A prominent tradition is to clean up the home, scrubbing it free of all of the bad luck of the previous year. Another is to get all finances in order and to set positivity for the new year. Probably one of the most popular traditions is that of giving red envelopes or hong bao. Red represents good luck, and these red envelopes are given to children, unmarried adults, and seniors. Furthermore, the most important night for a family celebration of the Chinese New Year is on New Year’s Eve, when people gather with their families to feast on a variety of dishes that engender prosperity. Some of these dishes include dumplings, valued for their gold-ingot-resembling shape, long noodles to represent longevity, and oranges to represent prosperity. Oftentimes, families will cook a fish dish, but they will not eat it because the Chinese word for fish sounds like the Chinese word for surplus.
With the traditions surrounding Chinese New Year come several taboos and superstitions. For example, people shouldn’t stick your chopsticks straight up in your rice because it would invite evil spirits to come to their homes. People shouldn’t eat porridge, because it brings poverty, and there should be no scissors or knives, as they cut wealth.
No matter how it’s celebrated, Chinese New Year will remain an important part of people’s lives and a wonderful opportunity to celebrate with friends and family and welcome in the new year.