Well, we might already be a good way into 2017, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to celebrate. We’ve still got Valentine’s Day and Easter… and even, at the end of January, another New Year’s celebration.
That’s right! At the end of January, Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival) celebrations will be taking place around the globe, ushering out the year of the monkey and welcoming the rooster in its place. So, what is it, when is it, and how can you take part in it?
Like many different countries, traditionally China used a lunar calendar, tracking their important dates—holidays, lucky days for weddings, funerals, or even moving house—through the movements of the moon. Nowadays, they’ve mostly switched to the Gregorian calendar (like we use), but the majority of holidays are still dependent on this traditional method.
What does this mean? Well, it means that the exact date isn’t fixed; the first day of the new year falls on the new moon between the 21st January and 20th February. This year, that’s the 28th January. Next year, it’ll be the 16th February.
There are also a couple of additional things—firstly, the Chinese New Year celebrations traditionally take place over a few weeks, culminating in the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day. Secondly, each year corresponds to an animal on the Chinese zodiac, there being twelve in all.
...…..So, if you happened to be born in 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, or 2005, then 2017 really is your year! Those were all years of the rooster, too. And, roosters, you’re said to be good people to know—you’re observant, hardworking, confident and honest. It’s up to you to decide whether that’s true or not, though!
How do people celebrate Chinese New Year, then? It usually begins a few days before, when people begin cleaning their houses in preparation. This
isn’t only practical; it also symbolises a wish to say goodbye to the old year and welcome in the new one. Then, it’s time to go shopping: people generally buy new clothes, as it’s good luck to wear them in the new year.
It’s not just clothes that are bought, however; it’s also time to buy food and decorations for the home. Chinese New Year, after all, is a family-oriented festival, so it’s expected that there will be shared dinners and people want to be prepared. Decorations can include paper cut-outs, or spring couplets, which are paired phrases that are pasted on each side of a door frame, to keep out evil.
New Year’s Eve is a time spent with family where possible. Everyone gets together for a big meal and children are given money in red envelopes by their parents to wish them luck. Then, like most people in the UK do on the 31st December, people celebrate Chinese New Year by staying up late, watching TV or fireworks.
New Year’s Day sees the donning of new clothes, extending traditional greetings, offering sacrifices to ancestors and the setting off of firecrackers and fireworks.
Although the colour red is traditional in Chinese culture for its associations with luck and happiness, it and the use of firecrackers also have their roots in one of the legends surrounding the new year.
The story goes that there was a village which was terrorised by a monster, called the Nian. On the first day of every new year, the Nian would come down and eat all of the livestock and grain, and, if they’d been left outside, any stray children. The villagers learnt that they had to hide in the mountains to avoid attack and so began doing so on this night every year. One year, an old man arrived in the village on the day of New Year’s Eve. An old woman tried to persuade him to leave with the other villagers, explaining about the monster, but he instead asked to stay in her house for the night—and she gave up, hiding with the others in the mountain while the man remained in the village.
That night, the Nian descended into the village. When he neared the old woman’s house, he was terrified by the red paper on the door and the bright lights inside, but decided to get even closer. As he did, he heard sudden bursts of noise and the door flew open, revealing the old man, wearing a red robe. The colour, the lights and the noise scared the monster away, because these were the things the monster feared. When the villagers returned later that day, they discovered what the old man had done and resolved to continue the practice every year.
Although it’s unlikely that you’ll see many firecrackers in the UK, there might be some Chinese New Year celebrations happening near you, especially if you live in or near a major city. They’ll be worth checking out—and since the day falls on a Saturday this year, there will most likely be something on all weekend.
Otherwise, it’s a nice time to spend with your family, to share a great meal with the people you love, or maybe even invest in some new (red) clothes!
Oh, and if you want to pass a new year’s greeting onto your friends, here you go:
新年快乐！(xīnnián kuàilè – sheen nian kwai luh)
Have a great new year!
If you are looking for a great outfit to wear for Chinese New Year, we have a great selection of dresses in red or bright colours. These colours match the festive, upbeat mood of the time. Give the perfect gift to the little ones and browse our great selection of toys.
Charlotte is a language blogger and avidly studies Mandarin and German; you can visit her website, Xuexisprachen here.