an article from Ellen
The traditional Chinese Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is one of China’s most important festivals. For Chinese people worldwide, the Spring Festival signifies happiness and reunion. It is an important time for family, just like Christmas is in the West. Each year, the Chinese New Year corresponds to a different date on the Gregorian calendar. This year, it falls on February 12. Usually, the New Year’s celebration lasts for half a month, until the day of the Lantern Festival.
As we all know, the Chinese zodiac is a repeating cycle, meaning each year being represented by one of the twelve animals. The zodiac for 2021 is the Ox, which is the second of the twelve signs. The ox is of great significance in traditional Chinese farming culture and is seen as a symbol of hard work, faithfulness, and unrewarding.
Let me introduce some traditions of the Spring Festival to you!
The Chinese New Year has been celebrated for a long time, with a history of more than 2,000 years. Some interesting customs have been preserved throughout the millennia. Most of these customs hold the expectations of the people for the new year. There are 5 of the most representative ones in the following.
1. Thorough Spring Cleaning 大扫除
Before Chinese New Year, people usually clean their homes very carefully. This is because in Chinese, „dust“ (尘) is pronounced in the same way as „old „(陈). Therefore, people want to sweep away the dust and get rid of old and bad things to look forward to new and good things.
2. The New Year’s Eve Dinner 年夜饭
The night before the Chinese New Year, also called New Year’s Eve, the whole family gathers to prepare and enjoy a sumptuous dinner together. Usually, the food is a combination of meat, vegetables and a variety of foods with auspicious meanings. For example, in Chinese, „fish“ (鱼, yú) and „remaining „(余, yú) are homophonic, meaning that good things will continue to happen in the next year. However, since China is a huge country, there is a big difference between the north and the south. In the north, dumplings are always part of the New Year’s Eve dinner, mostly made by the whole family together. In the south, however, people are more accustomed to eating rice cakes, which are pronounced similarly to „nian gao“ („年糕“ 同 „年高“) meaning „yearly promotion.“ This expresses people’s expectations for progress in work and life in the New Year. Although there are differences in eating habits, the most important and most anticipated part of the New Year’s Eve dinner is the family’s reunion.
3. Spring Couplets 贴春联 (chun lian; dui lian)
It is also a traditional custom to put „Spring Couplets“ on the door. The couplets usually consist of two contrasting sentences and a short banner. The contrasting sentences are posted on both sides of the door, ranging from 5 to 12 characters in length, and the banner is located in the middle, usually carrying a 4-character proverb.
4. Firecrackers 放鞭炮（与神话故事有关）
Firecrackers had first been associated with ancient Chinese mythology. In the myth, there was a monster called „Nian“, which was huge and fierce and came out on New Year’s Eve to catch humans. A brave little boy used the firecrackers‘ loud sound to chase away the monster, and people no longer had to be afraid. The custom has been preserved. In addition to setting off firecrackers to chase away the monster, people also set off firecrackers on the fifth day of the first month to welcome the „God of Wealth“ in hope of prosperity and a good harvest.
However, for safety and environmental reasons, the act of setting off firecrackers is now subject to restrictions and limitations, especially in big cities. People’s concept of firecrackers is also changing with the times.
5. Red Envelope (Hong Bao) 红包/压岁钱
For children, receiving a red envelope is one of the most exciting aspects of the Chinese New Year. Red is the color of good luck and joy in China. The elders put money in a red envelope and give it to the children on the first day of the New Year, filled with expectations and wishes from the elders to the youngers. However, the amount of money in the red envelope is not specified, ranging from ten to one thousand Chinese Yuan (from 1,5 Euro to 150 Euro). Nowadays, with the rise of mobile payments, some people give out electronic red envelopes, which can also be considered the brand of the times.
All over the world, Chinese people celebrate the New Year in their own way. Nevertheless, some traditions are quite common, like the famous parades, dragon and lion dances, and other activities in foreign Chinatowns. Moreover, people organize performances and shows together. In Freiburg, the Chinese New Year dinner in the Mensa was quite popular during the last years. The New Year Gala, which was organized by us and the Confucius Institute, is also a great opportunity for students and locals to get together and learn something about the Chinese culture here in Freiburg.
What is unusual this year?
In previous years, people would travel thousands of miles to their hometowns to reunite with their families. The Spring Festival was the largest movement of people in the world. This year, however, many people voluntarily chose not to go home for the Spring Festival because of the Corona pandemic. Many parents and elders sent home specialties and their own handmade food to their children who are living in different cities to connect tastes and feelings. In foreign countries, some of the celebrations are held online or in a small group only.
„Spring“ means the end of the cold winter and the recovery of everything, and people start to sow in expectation of a good harvest in the new year. As the Chinese Spring Festival approaches, we wish you a happy and healthy New Year. Hopefully, we can reunite with our family as soon as possible!
Happy Chinese New Year!