Lights of the Chinese New Year

According to the Chinese calendar 2017 is the year of the Rooster. To be precise 2017 is the year of the Fire Rooster. On January 28, 2017 people will celebrate the Chinese New Year. The date of the Chinese New Year is based on an ancient lunar calendar. Technically the beginning of the new year arrives with the second new moon after the Winter Solstice. According to the Chinese horoscope the year of the Rooster is considered auspicious.

The Spring Festival or Lunar New Year literally the agricultural New Year and generally known as Chinese New Year is one of the most important traditional Chinese festivities and celebrates precisely the start of the new year according to the Chinese calendar. As well as, of course, in China, the festival is celebrated in many countries of Far East, particularly in Korea, Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, Vietnam, where it is called Tet Nguyen Dan and Japan, where it was an official feast until 1873 and also in the countless Chinese communities in Chinatowns all over the world.

Since the Chinese follow a lunisolar calendar, the months begin concurrently with each new moon. Consequently the starting date of the first month, and therefore of the new year, can vary by about 29 days, coinciding with the second new moon after the winter solstice, an event that can take place between January 21 and February 19 of the Gregorian calendar. From this date, the festivities last for two weeks, ending with the traditional lantern festival.

As mentioned, the Chinese New Year begins in conjunction with the first new moon of the year. In accordance with the dictates of Chinese astrology, each year is marked by an animal sign and an earthly branch, which make up a 12-element cycle. Chinese New Year is to pass from one to another of these elements. According to Chinese mythology, the origin of the Spring Festival is traced to an ancient legend, according to which in ancient times lived in China a monster called Nian.

Nian would usually go out of its hole once every 12 months to eat human beings. The only way to escape this was by scaring Nian, who was sensitive to loud noises and was terrorized by the red color. For this reason, every 12 months, it was customary to celebrate New Year with songs, din, fireworks and the massive use of the red color. An echo of this legend could be seen in the lion dance ritual, a tradition practiced during the holidays in which it parades through the streets in a lion's mask, which would be the Nian.

The festivities for the New Year takes place in a period of two weeks. The real party starts from the night of the vigil with a family banquet and ends on the evening of the fifteenth day with the lantern festival. Generally, during this period people tend to stay with families, with visits to the relatives and closest friends.

This period coincides with the movements of Chunyun with festivities during which there has been a huge increase in travel in the national territory. Trying to dress up as much as possible in red, a propitiatory and traditional color, people adorn the houses and streets with characteristic objects and trinkets. Although the rituals may also vary significantly from one region to the other, the main events observed every day during this period are listed below.

The days preceding the arrival of the new year is usually dedicated to the thorough cleaning of the house. This occurs mainly in the 28th day of the 12th month. The act of cleaning the house has the symbolic meaning of sweeping away the bad luck and accidents of the past year and prepare the house for the arrival of luck in the next and for this reason, people often refrain from dusting in the days following the New Year, in order not to eliminate the luck. It is common practice in many regions of China decorate the house with red ribbons and trinkets, or even repaint the walls with red paint.

In the evening before, in every family people consume a sumptuous banquet, which never misses the fish. In many parts of China people prepare traditional rolls or dumplings called Jiaozi of various types. The first day of the new year is dedicated to the reception and to welcome the deity benign of Heaven and Earth. More importantly, this day is also spent visiting relatives and close friends, and especially parents and grandparents.

Typical of this day is the allegorical lion dance parade, with the typical huge mannequin representative of a lion taken around the city streets. During the evening are traditional shows with fireworks and noisy explosives. In many parts of China people abstain from eating meat, especially among the Buddhists. Also many traditions consider it ominous to light fires on this first day, and therefore the food consumed is often cooked in previous days.

On the second day married women visit their parents. This is a special event because in traditional China, women after marriage met parents only infrequently. It is also the traditional cult of the dead, who are honored with prayers and the lighting of incense and candles.

The third and fourth days of the new year is usually spent at home, refraining from visiting or from meeting relatives and friends, since it is a common belief that arguments are easier on these days, and because these are usually dedicated to the commemoration of the dead, especially for those who have lost a family member in the past few years.

The fifth day is considered the birthday of the Chinese god of money and wealth. In Taiwan generally offices and commercial businesses open again on this day, including large auspicious celebrations for business. It is also typical of the consummation of Jiaozi. The seventh day of the new year is celebrated the anniversary of renri, the day of the creation of man.

It is considered a kind of common birthday, in which each person becomes old by a year. It is customary to celebrate by eating traditional Yusheng, a kind of salad of raw fish, in the company of friends. For many Buddhists, even in this day it is good to abstain from eating meat. The ninth day is devoted to the cult of Jade Emperor, the King of Heaven in the Taoist canon, to whom prayers are offered.

The fifteenth day is the day of Yuanxiao Jie, which concludes the festivities. The main celebration is the festival of lanterns, during which families come out to the streets holding lit and colored lanterns. Outside the houses people light up candles to guide the spirits of good luck to homes. It's typical to consume Tangyuan, a rice dessert.

The fireworks have been a traditional New Year's celebration since ancient times. The colorful and noisy outbursts are considered a way to drive away evil spirits, frightened by the lights and noise. Once made up of hollow reeds of bamboo filled with gunpowder, fireworks today consist of modern rockets and explosive sticks.

In many large cities in China, such as Beijing, government often organize shows of the great fires in the streets. In the rural areas of China, however, the firing of rockets and firecrackers continue largely uncontrolled in every New Year.

Exchange of red envelopes containing small gifts called lai shi or hóng BAO is typical of the festivities for the New Year. These envelopes contain always and only money, traditionally in the form of coins, whose total can go from a few yuan to several hundred. Traditionally, the number of coins contained in the envelopes must always be equal, as odd numbers are associated with the money that is given in the case of funerals.

Also, since in China as in other countries of East Asia the number 4 is considered ominous, because of its similarity with the term death, the envelopes never contain coins in number of four or multiple. The only exception is the number 8 which is considered rather auspicious.

Usually red envelopes are given away by married couples to family members or to younger friends and bachelors. It is also common practice for adults to donate them to children. Another term for the exchange of red envelopes is Yāsuìqián, which has the meaning of New Year's money.

The Lion Dance is a typical tradition of the New Year's days. It consists of a parade through the streets of cities and villages, in which a representative mannequin a lion march and dance to loud rhythm and swing of drums and cymbals.

It is similar to the Dragon Dance, a similar tradition practiced on several occasions during various times of the year, but has a different meaning, where the Dragon Dance celebrates and invokes benign Chinese dragons, the Lion Dance is rather seen as a practice able to drive out and exorcise evil spirits and encourage the arrival of luck in the new year.

The color red is considered a good omen for the new year, and it is therefore common practice to decorate the houses with bows and ribbons of this color during the New Year. Other typical decorations on display in the house and on the back side of the gates include auspicious sayings, paintings on paper and canvas according to the calligraphic arts, small paintings or traditional knots of red cloth.

Many are also used to adorn the houses with little trinkets and most commonly are items depicting fish, especially the Koi, an ornamental variant of the carp that, gives omen of good luck in many Asian countries. It appears in many drawings and small objects. Typical is also the exposure of small ingots of gold and silver in the characteristic shape, the yuán bǎo or taels, which is also bearer of prosperity and wealth, or small origami called jiǎn zhǐ.

Common to other festive times of the year, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival, it is the lighting of the lanterns made of paper of rice and hung outside the doors. In the fifteenth day of the celebrations lanterns are detached and carried by families around the streets, in what is the Lantern Festival.

Finally, it is typical exposure of particular flowers or floral compositions especially Asian plum buds called méi or meizi, that symbolize luck, narcissus, symbolizing prosperity, chrysanthemum, symbolizing longevity, sunflower, typical of this period and auspicious for the New Year, Bamboo and flowers and fruits of kumquat also called Jinju.

The most important gastronomic event during the festivities of the New Year is the convivial dinner that takes place the night before the new year. It is a family time, where the closest relatives are found generally at home in front of a richly laden table with abundance and the opulence of the course. The main and inevitable dishes are fish and chicken. Especially the fish, in many regions of China, is served in such quantities as to make sure there is a surplus.

If fish and chicken are always consumed for superstitious reasons, the same names of the dishes served during the holidays often contain auspicious meanings. The following are some of the typical dishes of the Chinese New Year. It is however appropriate to recall that, like other traditions, if not a greater extent of these, the composition of the menu can vary widely between different areas of the great China.

Luóhàn Zhai or Buddha delight is a sort of mixed salad based on algae also called fat choy whose name sounds similar to prosperity. Jau gok is consumed in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, which are Chinese dumplings whose shape resembles that of small ingots, thus constituting a wealth omen. Jiaozi possess the symbolic meaning of packages filled with luck.

Nian gao is a rice cake whose name means a more prosperous year than the previous. In Chinese restaurants on the occasion of the Chinese New Year some of these dishes are the duck tongues, crow's feet with vinegar and coriander, the yuanxiao, sweet glutinous rice balls with sesame filling. The arrival of the new year is accompanied by typical phrases of joy and congratulations, which are exchanged between friends and family loudly and enthusiastically. These phrases are often gathered under the collective name of Jíxiánghùa.

Among the most used are Happy New Year, Xinnian Kuai Le, Sun nin do lok, used in the southern and eastern parts of China, but not considered very traditional and influenced by the traditions. Into the innermost parts of China it is rather more used the phrase Guònián hǎo. Another common expression is Gung hei faat choi.

There are also numerous other forms phrases, used less often or in certain circumstances for example, it is traditional to shout Suìsuì Ping'an, with the meaning of peace year after year in the event that happens to break an object, to ward off bad luck flowed from small accident, and so on.