Cultural Christmas: Chinese New Year

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So guys, here is the last cultural christmas post. Since I am done with religious holidays, we will talk about different cultures, and in this one we’ll talk about chinese new year. I would do it closer to the time, but it’s on the 31st of January, so I will have to talk about it now.

The source of Chinese New Year is itself centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and traditions. Traditionally, the festival was a time to honour deities as well as ancestors.[Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations, including Mainland China, Hong Kong,Macau, Taiwan, Singapore,Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Philippines,and also in Chinatowns all around the world (Including in Liverpool, the nearest city to me and also the home to the oldest chinese community in Europe). Chinese New Year is considered a major holiday for the Chinese and has had influence on the lunar new year celebrations of its geographic neighbours.

You may be aware of the Chinese Lunar calender, the one with 12 animals that you get in Chinese takeaways around January. Each year has one of 12 animals, which I will not explain here, but will talk about in another post on another day. But each animal has a year, and the follow a rotation, my zodiac animal is the ox, as I was born in 1997, and the next year of the ox will be 2021, 2014 is the horse. In the Gregorian calendar, Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, a date between January 21 and February 20. In the Chinese calendar, winter solstice must occur in the 11th month, which means that Chinese New Year usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. In traditional Chinese Culture, lichun is a solar term marking the start of spring, which occurs about February 4. This year, as previously mentioned, the celebrations will occur around the 31st of January 2014.

Chinese New Year is observed as a public holiday in a number of countries and territories where a sizable Chinese population resides. Since Chinese New Year falls on different dates on the Gregorian calendar every year on different days of the week, some of these governments opt to shift working days in order to accommodate a longer public holiday. In some countries, a statutory holiday is added on the following work day when the New Year falls on a weekend, as in the case of 2013, where the New Year’s Eve (9 February) falls on Saturday and the New Year’s Day (10 February) on Sunday.

There are so many customs to do with Chinese New Year, that listing them all would result in page after page of posts, so I will focus on a few things, but not all of the things that happen. During the New Year festivities, red envelopes containing money are given to people. The red colour of the envelope symbolises good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits. The amount of money contained in the envelope usually ends with an even digit, in accordance with Chinese beliefs; odd-numbered money gifts are traditionally associated with funerals. Still in some regions of China, odd-numbers are favoured for weddings because they are difficult to divide (China, I see what you did there).

Also, besides the red envelopes, small gifts are exchanged, between friends and family. Personally, I think that this is better than our christmas in many ways, considering the commercialisation of the major religious holidays in the 21st century. These gifts include fruit, chocolate, sweets, biscuits or something else which is small and sweet.

The last custom that I am talking about is one of the most well known ones. I am of course talking about the FIREWORKS. Fireworks were invented by the Chinese, like noodles and many cool things, also gave Italy the idea for Spaghetti. I am getting off track, but anyway, they were developed to actually ward away the evil spirits. Nowadays, they’re more for entertainment than for warding away evil spirits, but the tradition stays.

And this is Chinese New Year in a nutshell. More posts to be coming soon. School is nearly over, so I shall be writing more posts.

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Ben

Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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