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The Lunar New Year, more commonly known as the Chinese New Year, officially starts this week.
This year Chinese New Year officially begins on the 5th of February, with preparations for the lantern festival beginning on the 16th. The lantern festival, which caps off the celebrations, will occur on the 19th.
The Chinese New Year is considered the most important holiday in China and is a big day for all people of Chinese descent all over the world. Surely there is a lot more to it than just tikoy, ang pao, and dragon dances.
From taboos to traditions and a lot more facts about it, here are 15 things you probably didn’t know about the Chinese New Year.
1. There’s no exact date set for Chinese New Year
It is believed that the Lunar New Year should begin on the first month of the Lunar Calendar and shall last for 15 days. For 2019, Chinese New Year will kick-off on February 5 and will end 19th of the same month.
Chinese people believe stocking up on their supplies before the festivity begins will prepare them for the first sign of the celebration which is the “Laba Festival.” This is where they prepare and serve cured meat, salted fish, preserved foods and most importantly, the Laba Menu which includes the Laba porridge, Laba tofu, noodles, and wheat kernel rice.
The Laba porridge includes seven different types of grains like husked rice, red beans, and red dates. They believe that eating this meal will teach them to be grateful for the abundance of the ending and coming year.
2. It is called as the “Spring Festival” in China
“Chunjie,” or the Spring Festival, is what the Chinese New Year is called in China.
Although the start of the holiday marks the end of the winter season in the country, the remaining days are still the coldest days. Just as what it is called, the “Spring” festival brings with it planting and harvesting, new beginnings and fresh starts.
It is called by some as Lunar New Year simply because it goes according to the lunar calendar and other countries such as Vietnam and South Korea celebrate is as well.
As in the Western horoscope, which has 12-star signs, one for each month, there are also 12 signs in the Chinese zodiac. However, in the Chinese zodiac, there is only one sign per year.
Every year is represented by one of 12 different animals namely: Dog, Dragon, Goat, Horse, Monkey, Pig, Rabbit, Rat, Rooster, Snake, Tiger, and Ox.
It is believed that your zodiac, depending on the animal year, will grant you positive traits for the rest of the year. Such will influence your career, health, money and relationship success.
This 2019 is the Year of the Earth Pig.
4. Your zodiac year is your most unlucky year
Your zodiac year, or your “benming year” in Chinese, is the year of your zodiac animal. Out of the 12 zodiac signs per year cycle, your own animal is the unluckiest for you.
There are different explanations relating to this belief, but the most basic notion most Chinese acknowledge is that children who are celebrating the rebirth of their zodiac during the animal year can be easily taken by bad spirits.
5. They decorate everything in red
If it is an “unlucky year” for you, the way to ward off the bad spirits is to wear red.
Even if it is not a personally unlucky year, the color red is still used in almost all of the decorations during Chinese New Year. Every family will design their homes and re-decorate it with anything as long as it’s red. They will hang up red lanterns or strings of fake or even real red chili peppers, and even paste red papers onto every door and window.
They also wear red clothing: red pants and red shirts or even red underwear; anything red as a sign of protection as well as fortune. New red clothes are considered auspicious and Chinese people often take this time to add to their wardrobe.
6. It is considered the longest Chinese holiday
The Spring Festival is 15 days long, technically, but since the celebration starts at New Years Eve, it is counted as 16 days. But if you are going to begin counting the holiday starting from the “Laba” Festival, which starts in December, it will end up being a 40 days long celebration.
In China, it is expected that the majority of the shops be closed during national holidays, that is why people there will stock up on supplies such as food, clothes, and gifts before the new year.
Also, as a tradition, you can only go out on the fifth day of the holiday. You also have to spend time with your family for the whole span of the festivity.
7. Chinese people age a year older during the festival
In China, you have two different ages: a “real” age called “shi sui” and a nominal age called “xu sui.” Your real age is the one you are during your birthday while the nominal age is the one which increases during the Spring Festival.
Although this is not common knowledge amongst non-Chinese, it is still practiced nowadays by many Chinese.
8. There are a lot of taboos practiced during this time
Every country has their own set of customs or belief that they follow by heart. This is also common within the Chinese clan. It is believed that if you don’t follow the taboos, bad luck will come your way.
During their Spring Festival, two taboos are:
Showering during New Year’s Day
Sweeping and throwing garbage before the fifth
This is done to ensure that you don’t wash away the good luck for the coming year.
In contrast to that, however, the Spring Festival is dedicated to cleaning. This is done to ensure that you sweep away bad luck and make room for good luck in the coming new year.
9. Dumplings, spring rolls or egg rolls and “tangyuan” are a thing
During the old times, Chinese would eat dumplings for every meal during every day of the festival. Not many people do it these days due to health reasons. However, one must surely eat dumplings for breakfast the first day of new year.
The eating of dumplings is said to be the tradition within the northern part of China. In the Southern part, however, people would rather eat a soup with ball shaped glutinous rice called “Tangyuan,” as well as spring rolls or what they call as egg rolls.
In addition, they serve desserts with special meanings, such as “Nian Gao” or rice cake, which symbolizes success each new year. They also have their “Fa Gao,” or a hybrid of a sponge cake and a muffin, which they dye in festive colors. “Fa” is taken from “Fa Cai” which means “to get rich.”
10. Chinese people drink wine specifically made for the celebration
Chinese people love drinking and because of that, they have a wine specially made for every ceremony, festival or important occasions such as birthdays, engagement dinners, weddings, and the like. They also play different drinking games depending on the event being celebrated.
When drinking during New Year’s dinner, one must also adhere to toasting depending on your seating, as well as how you should hold the glass.
11. It is a day intended for praying and fighting off bad spirits
Originally, the Spring Festival is a ceremonial day intended for praying to the gods for good planting and harvest year. They serve the best foods in their table to their gods as a sign of thanksgiving. They also pray to their ancestors for guidance for the coming year.
They also believe in a myth about the monster “Nian,” who comes out every New Year’s Eve making people hide in their homes until one brave boy fought him with the use of firecrackers vanishing the evil “Nian” forever. Since then, it is a tradition to set off fireworks during Spring Festival.
12. Single people hire fake boyfriends and girlfriends for show
Passing down the family name is one of the most important parts of the Chinese culture that is why the single ones are desperate to have somebody attend social events with them to avoid judgement and pressure. Because of that, some Chinese will hire fake boyfriends or girlfriends to take home during family gatherings especially on Spring Festival.
13. Children receive lucky red envelopes
In other cultures, especially in the Western part of the world, children receive gifts for the holidays. In the Chinese culture, gifts are also exchanged during the new year but in the form of red packets called “Ang Pao.” Children during the Spring festival receive these red packets filled with money, which for them is a transfer of fortune from elders to their kids’ future.
In the modern world, due to the development of technology, digital red packets are a trend now. People would send a red packet in a group chat and fight for it against one another. Such is called “Qing Hongbao” or if translated “snatching red packets/pockets.”
14. The celebration ends with the Lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival, or the “Yuanxiao Festival,” is the first full moon in the lunar year of the lunar calendar. Although such should be celebrated with the family, it is also a night dedicated to partying and freedom.
During the old times, the Chinese didn’t allow women to roam around by themselves except in the night of the Lantern Festival. They will be able to walk around under the full moon with the beautiful lantern decorations as this is known as the Valentine’s Day of China. This day is dedicated for them to socialize and meet with other people especially with the opposite sex.
15. Spring Festival is celebrated in all parts of the world
Chinese and people of Chinese descent can now be found all over the world. One in every five people is Chinese. Places outside of Asia such as Sydney, Australia, London, England, and San Francisco in the USA have the biggest and grandest Spring Festival celebrations.
From lantern statues to lion dances, parades, fireworks, and of course the sumptuous food, the Chinese New Year, or the Lunar New Year, the Spring Festival—or whatever else it is called—is surely celebrated all over the world.
About the author
Cloey Mangali Cloey was a denstistry student before she found her true calling. After writing digital content for several publications, she now churns out financial advice and lifestyle pieces on eCompareMo. She is also a certified travel junkie, novel geek, and sports enthusiast. Connect with her on LinkedIn.