Chinese New Year 2010 begins on February 14th, coincidently on Valentine’s day!
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The Chinese New Year is observed over a fifteen day period. I remember fondly the hustle and bustle around my parent’s home in the days leading up to Chinese New Year. The cooking of the special food (jai, joong (a form of Chinese Tamale), and more). Each of us have our own memories of sights or sounds or smells that bring us right back to a happy moment in childhood. Even the roughest childhoods usually have at least a singular defining moment of joy. For me, this was one of them. Lying in bed, probably about eight years old, being woken up by the clanging of pots and pans, the smell of things boiling, steaming, the distinct aroma of steaming bamboo leaves, filled with glutinous rice and meat, dried shrimp, dried scallops and chestnuts (and lots of other ingredients)… a moment of peace and harmony in my home. That memory is like comfort food for my soul.
All around the world, in a multitude of Chinese communities, preparations are being made now. Homes are cleaned, food is being prepared, things like doctor appointments are being taken care of (it’s bad luck to see the doctor during the Chinese New Year celebration). For more information about what the fifteen day period entails, please click.
The following is more information about Chinese New Year from wikipedia (please see the end of this post for additional information)
On the days before the New Year celebration Chinese families give their home a thorough cleaning. There is a Cantonese saying “Wash away the dirt on ninyabaat” (年廿八，洗邋遢), but the practice is not usually restricted on nin’ya’baat (年廿八, the 28th day of month 12). It is believed the cleaning sweeps away the bad luck of the preceding year and makes their homes ready for good luck. Brooms and dust pans are put away on the first day so that luck cannot be swept away. Some people give their homes, doors and window-frames a new coat of red paint. Homes are often decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets. Purchasing new clothing, shoes, and receiving a hair-cut also symbolize a fresh start.
In many households where Buddhism or Taoism is prevalent, home altars and statues are cleaned thoroughly, and altars that were adorned with decorations from the previous year are also taken down and burned a week before the new year starts, and replaced with new decorations. Taoists (and Buddhists to a lesser extent) will also “send gods” (送神), an example would be burning a paper effigy of Zao Jun the Kitchen God, the recorder of family functions. This is done so that the Kitchen God can report to the Jade Emperor of the family household’s transgressions and good deeds. Families often offer sweet foods (such as candy) in order to “bribe” the deities into reporting good things about the family.
The biggest event of any Chinese New Year’s Eve is the dinner every family will have. A dish consisting of fish will appear on the tables of Chinese families. It is for display for the New Year’s Eve dinner. This meal is comparable to Christmas dinner in the West. In northern China, it is customary to make dumplings (jiaozi 饺子) after dinner and have it around midnight. Dumplings symbolize wealth because their shape is like a Chinese tael. By contrast, in the South, it is customary to make a new year cake (Niangao, 年糕) after dinner and send pieces of it as gifts to relatives and friends in the coming days of the new year. Niangao literally means increasingly prosperous year in year out. After the dinner, some families go to local temples, hours before the new year begins to pray for a prosperous new year by lighting the first incense of the year; however in modern practice, many households hold parties and even hold a countdown to the new lunar year. Beginning in 1982, the CCTV New Year’s Gala was broadcast four hours before the start of the New Year.
The first day is for the welcoming of the deities of the heavens and earth, officially beginning at midnight. Many people, especially Buddhists, abstain from meat consumption on the first day because it is believed that this will ensure longevity for them. Some consider lighting fires and using knives to be bad luck on New Year’s Day, so all food to be consumed is cooked the day before. For Buddhists, the first day is also the birthday of Maitreya Bodhisattva (better known as the more familiar Budai Luohan), the Buddha-to-be. People also abstain from killing animals.
Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time when families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended family, usually their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.
Some families may invite a lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Lunar New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises. Members of the family who are married also give red packets containing cash to junior members of the family, mostly children and teenagers. Not only the married, Companies and Boss also give red packets to employee for good luck and wealth.
While fireworks and firecrackers are traditionally very popular, some regions have banned them due to concerns over fire hazards, which have resulted in increased number of fires around New Years and challenged municipal fire departments’ work capacity. For this reason, various city governments (e.g., Hong Kong, and Beijing, for a number of years) issued bans over fireworks and firecrackers in certain premises of the city. As a substitute, large-scale fireworks have been launched by governments in cities like Hong Kong to offer citizens the experience.
The second day of the Chinese New Year is for married daughters to visit their birth parents. Traditionally, daughters who have been married may not have the opportunity to visit their birth families frequently.
On the second day, the Chinese pray to their ancestors as well as to all the gods. They are extra kind to dogs and feed them well as it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs.
Business people of the Cantonese dialect group will hold a ‘Hoi Nin’ prayer to start their business on the 2nd day of Chinese New Year. The prayer is done to pray that they will be blessed with good luck and prosperity in their business for the year.
Third and fourth days
The third and fourth day of the Chinese New Year are generally accepted as inappropriate days to visit relatives and friends due to the following schools of thought. People may subscribe to one or both thoughts.
1) It is known as “chì kǒu” (赤口), meaning that it is easy to get into arguments. It is suggested that the cause could be the fried food and visiting during the first two days of the New Year celebration.
2) Families who had an immediate kin deceased in the past 3 years will not go house-visiting as a form of respect to the dead, but people may visit them on this day. Some people then conclude that it is inauspicious to do any house visiting at all. The third day of the New Year is allocated to grave-visiting instead.
In northern China, people eat jiǎo zi (simplified Chinese: 饺子; traditional Chinese: 餃子), or dumplings on the morning of Po Wu (破五). This is also the birthday of the Chinese god of wealth. In Taiwan, businesses traditionally re-open on this day, accompanied by firecrackers.
It is also common on the mainland, that on the 5th day locals will shoot off firecrackers, in the attempt to get Guan Yu’s attention, thus ensuring his favor and good fortune for the new year.
The seventh day, traditionally known as renri 人日, the common man’s birthday, the day when everyone grows one year older. It is the day when tossed raw fish salad, yusheng, is eaten. This is a custom primarily among the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Singapore. People get together to toss the colourful salad and make wishes for continued wealth and prosperity.
For many Chinese Buddhists, this is another day to avoid meat, the seventh day commemorating the birth of Sakra Devanam Indra.
Another family dinner to celebrate the eve of the birth of the Jade Emperor. However, everybody should be back to work by the 8th day. All of government agencies and business will stop celebrating by the eighth day.
The ninth day of the New Year is a day for Chinese to offer prayers to the Jade Emperor of Heaven (天宮) in the Taoist Pantheon. The ninth day is traditionally the birthday of the Jade Emperor. This day is especially important to Hokkiens. Come midnight of the eighth day of the new year, Hokkiens will offer thanks giving prayers to the Emperor of Heaven. Offerings will include sugarcane as it was the sugarcane that had protected the Hokkiens from certain extermination generations ago. Incense, tea, fruit, vegetarian food or roast pig, and paper gold is served as a customary protocol for paying respect to an honored person.
The other day when the Jade Emperor’s birthday is celebrated.
On the 13th day people will eat pure vegetarian food to clean out their stomach due to consuming too much food over the last two weeks.
This day is dedicated to the General Guan Yu, also known as the Chinese God of War. Guan Yu was born in the Han dynasty and is considered the greatest general in Chinese history. He represents loyalty, strength, truth, and justice. According to history, he was tricked by the enemy and was beheaded.
Almost every organization and business in China will pray to Guan Yu on this day. Before his life ended, Guan Yu had won over one hundred battles and that is a goal that all businesses in China want to accomplish. In a way, people look at him as the God of Wealth or the God of Success.
The fifteenth day of the new year is celebrated as yuán xiāo jié (元宵节), otherwise known as Chap Goh Mei in Fujian dialect. Rice dumplings tangyuan (simplified Chinese: 汤圆; traditional Chinese: 湯圓; pinyin: tāngyuán), a sweet glutinous rice ball brewed in a soup, is eaten this day. Candles are lit outside houses as a way to guide wayward spirits home. This day is celebrated as the Lantern Festival, and families walk the street carrying lighted lanterns.
This day often marks the end of the Chinese New Year festivities.