Chinese New Year 2019
The famous Chinese poet Wang Wei once wrote: "Whoever lives alone in a foreign country gets twice as homesick on holidays." For the Chinese, the Chinese New Year is such a holiday and evokes a longing for home.
Shortly after the foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese government decided to introduce the Gregorian calendar into the country and use it as the official calendar of the state. However, the traditional Chinese calendar, today mostly called "farmer's calendar", is not renounced. To this day, many national public holidays in China are determined according to the farmers' calendar. For example the Qingming Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Lantern Festival and the focus of this article: the Chinese New Year Festival, also known as "Spring Festival".
The Spring Festival has been celebrated in China for more than 4000 years. Similar to Christmas in Germany, the Spring Festival is the most important traditional festival in China. It plays an important role in the traditional Chinese culture and is deeply rooted in the heart of the Chinese. As soon as the Spring Festival is near, you return home, whether you're in the south or north of the country, to celebrate the New Year with your family. This is how the term "Chunyun" was coined, which describes the sharp increase in traffic during the holidays. In China's long history, the Spring Festival has received a profound connotation from the people. On this occasion, many folk sayings and words of happiness have been created, which correspond the local conditions and customs and reflect the life experiences and the beautiful visions of the people. On the occasion of the beginning of the Spring Festival I would like to explain some interesting customs, share the fun of the Spring Festival with you and hopefully ease homesickness.
Chinese New Year Time
The Chinese New Year is calculated according to the Chinese farmer's calendar and isn't therefore, like in the Gregorian calendar, the same every year. 2019 it is on February, 5th. The festival begins according to the Chinese calendar on January, 1st (05.02.2019) and lasts about 15 days until the Lantern Festival on January, 15th (19.02.2019). According to popular tradition, however, the Spring Festival begins on December, 23rd (according to the farmers' calendar) and reaches its peak on New Year's Eve and the first day of the new year.
Why is the New Year celebrated?
In Chinese folk culture, the Spring Festival is also known as "Guo Nian" (the end of the year). There are many legends about the New Year in China. One of them says there's a vicious monster called "Nian". It awakes from its deep sleep at the end of a year and eats animals and humans everywhere. However, the monster is very afraid of the color red and of noise. That's why Chinese decorate their houses red and make as much noise as possible to protect themselves from the monster. To celebrate the expulsion of the monster, the Chinese still decorate their houses in red and make as much noise as possible by lighting firecrackers. Over time, red decorations, clothing and fireworks have become a must for the New Year. The following popular saying illustrates how Chinese like to light fireworks and crackers for the Spring Festival and how much importance they give to this activity:
"The New Year has come, make some noise: the first noise brings you luck; the second dispels worries; the third dispels your difficulties; the fourth brings wealth; the fifth promises a high salary; the sixth brings health; the seventh brings a good mood; the eighth stands for peace; the ninth is a blessing of God; the tenth is the guarantee of a good career!"
In addition to the many stories and legends, there are two important reasons why the Chinese celebrate the New Year: First, they want to meet with the family, second, they see the festival as a good time to say goodbye to the past year and to plan the new year.
People in different regions of China celebrate the Spring Festival in different ways. In my homeland there is a folk song that vividly describes the customs of the people of East Henan during the Spring Festival. I summarize the meaning here:
- Dec, 23 : Pray to the kitchen god. The kitchen god is an important god of the Chinese house gods. According to legend, he flies to the Jade Emperor in heaven once a year before the end of the year and tells him what he knows about the family. Then the Jade Emperor determines the fate of the family for the next year. So that the kitchen god of the Jade Emperor only tells good things about the family, each family cooks something delicious for him during this time.
- Dec, 24 : Cleaning the house. Every family sweeps the house on this day and cleans everywhere. This basic cleaning shows on the one hand the high attention that people give to the Spring Festival, on the other hand it also means the removal of "old, bad things".
- Dec, 25 : Grind Tofu. Tofu is a food that the average citizen often eats at home. It is more expensive than ordinary vegetables, but cheaper than meat. It is also rich in nutrients and can be prepared in a variety of ways, making it very popular.
- Dec, 26 : Slaughter pigs and buy meat. In the past, ordinary people were very poor and there were many children in the family. Often one could eat meat only during the Spring Festival, therefore the meat was also called "annual meat". The pigs were fattened by the family until the end of the year, when it is time for them to do something for the family and offer their meat. If you don't have pigs at home, you go to the market and get your piece of meat there.
- Dec, 27 : Kill chicken. In the old days, farmers used to keep chickens in every household. If you didn't have money to buy pork, you killed a chicken. You should prepare some meat for the feast, otherwise it would only be half as nice.
- Dec, 28: Decorate the house. On this day, department stores, public buildings, office buildings and streets are decorated with red lanterns, red lucky charms and red verses. In private, red verses and door gods are attached to doors... In Chinese culture, the colour red is associated with happiness and joy and is generally regarded as promising.
- Dec, 29: See the decorations of the neighbours. Yesterday (Dec 28) everyone decorated their houses, today you want to see the results and compare which family did it best.
- Dec, 30 : Make Dumplings. Dumplings are a must for the New Year. It is said that the Chinese eat dumplings every day during the New Year, and that is not an exaggeration. On the 30th of December you usually make a lot of dumplings, put them in the fridge and prepare them again and again in the following days.
The highlight of the Spring Festival
- New Year's Eve: On the eve of the New Year you like to stay up late or just don't sleep all night. To stay awake, the whole family sits together, talks, eats something and watches the CCTV New Year's Gala "Chunwan" on TV. The annual show starts at 8 pm and lasts 4 hours until the beginning of the new year. After the show, 1.3 billion Chinese can practically greet the New Year together.
- January 1st (New Year): On this day, Chinese children get up very early. They put on new clothes and then run to their grandparents and other relatives to congratulate them on New Year's Day and receive red envelopes. The red envelopes contain money. They are seen as a symbol of good luck for the children. Nowadays almost everyone has a smartphone, so it's common to give red envelopes away via WeChat and send congratulations over the net. The dinner that day is also very important. The families with several generations are sitting around a table, enjoying the food and the time together.
From the 2nd to the 15th of January you visit relatives and friends. And with the Lantern Festival on January, 15, you set a nice final point for the New Year's celebration. As I write this article, I remember how I used to spend the spring festival with my family: Decorating the house with my father, making dumplings with my mother and playing and arguing with my siblings ... Now Papa is already in heaven and we can't meet on earth anymore. But the memories of the past turn of the year do not fade, and the mutual love, as well as the support within the family never stops.
Thank you for reading this and until next time!
Jingmin Yan and the alugha team!