Chinese New Year Festival - Culture Background
Chinese New Year Day is the first day of the first lunar month of Chinese calendar year. The Chinese new year day is always between January 20 to February 20 of the Gregorian calendar each year. The preparation to celebrate the Chinese New Year festival begins around 8th day of 12th lunar month. The last day of the Chinese New Year festival is on the 15th day of first lunar month. That means it is required about three weeks to prepare the festival and 15 days to celebrate it. Traditionally, a Chinese man works outside for living and his wife takes care everything inside home. A month is not long enough for a housewife to clean entire house, put new interior and exterior decoration, prepare new clothes and gifts for all family members, and food for many events. You can image that Chinese New Year festival combines Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year Day together.
To understand more about 15-day Chinese New Year festival, we need to know some Chinese culture background first. Thousands of years ago, China was mainly an agriculture society. Each year, the dynasty government announced annual calendar for farmers. The calendar contained the solar, lunar and weather information for people to know when to seed, plant, harvest on their land and even when to work, rest, pray and celebrate for their activities. Obviously, farmers know they count on sky for their living. The sky is connected to heaven and heaven is related to religion. The major activity of the religion is to pray to gods for good luck, wealth, health, wisdom, career, longevity, peace, happiness at temple or home.
The religion for most Chinese today is mixing Buddhism and Taoism (Daoism) together. Buddhism was imported from India. Taoism is Chinese domestic. The founder of Taoism is credited to Lao-Tse (Laozi), who wrote famous Tao Te Ching, "the Classic Book of the Way and Its Virtue? around 604-531 BC. Taoism books say there are 36 heavens and 36 grounds in the universe. There are hundreds of gods and goddesses as well as saints and immortals living in the heavens and grounds. The Original Supreme God lives in the 36th heaven. The Spiritual-Treasure Supreme God lives in the 35th heaven. The Ethics-Virtues Supreme God, who had once the incarnation to Lao-Tse, lives in 34th heaven. They are top three Gods in the Taoism (Universe).
The Jade Emperor lives in the 33rd heaven. He is the king of gods and in charge of 33 heavens. Therefore Jade Emperor is one of the important gods who are worshiped or prayed in the many Chinese family.
Chinese New Year Calendar
Chinese New Year Day is the first lunar day of the lunar month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The first lunar day is the new moon day. So the different time zones might have different Chinese New Year Days.
|China Time Zone||US PST Time Zone||US EST Time Zone|
February, 19 2015
February, 18 2015
February, 18 2015
8th lunar day of 12th Lunar Month - Chinese New Year - Rice Porridge Day
Thousands of years, ancient Chinese worshiped heaven and commemorated ancestors with hunted animal meat on 8th, 18th and 28th day of 12th lunar month. Later, Chinese made congee or porridge of glutinous rice, mixed grains, cereals, dried fruit, salty meat on the 8th day of last lunar month.
After Buddhism prevailed in China, Chinese said the day of 8th lunar day the Rice Porridge Day is in memory of the Shakyamuni Buddha's Enlightenment Day. To eat the creamy white rice porridge mixing mince is because a shepherd girl fed Buddha the creamy milk after his enlightenment.
16th lunar day of 12th Lunar Month - Chinese New Year - Last Free Dinner
Every second and 16th day of the lunar month, the family worship The God of Local Land (like town mayor) with food and sacrifice. If the family run a business, they will treat employees dinner at the nights of 2nd and 16th lunar days. The 16th day of 12th lunar month is the employee last free dinner of the year (like Christmas Party dinner). One thing special is worth to mention. Usually there is whole chicken as the sacrifice on the table. The boss put the chicken head pointing to an employee, that means he or she is fired. If the chicken head points to boss, then nobody is fired. Therefore, not everyone really wants to attend this free dinner. Probably, no one serves chicken head on the table today.
Why do Chinese want to worship the God of Local Land? The answer is simple - Bribery with food. Chinese hope that God of Local Land will mention something about their good conduct, not bad behavior when The God of Local Land returns to the heaven and reports to the God of Heaven. The God of Local Land is the lowest rank officer among the Taoism and he is the one the most closest to people. We can find his statue in many small roadside shines today. More stories about The God of Local Land...
Some Chinese treat the God of the Local Land as the God of Wealth. They must ask the God of the Local Land for their money luck before. the God of the Local Land make their dream fulfilled.
24th lunar day of 12th Lunar Month - Chinese New Year - Farewell Day of God
The 24th of 12th lunar month is the Farewell Day for The God of Stove.
On this day, The God of Stove will return to the Heaven to report family behaviors of the current year. Therefore, Chinese prepare lots of food for The God of Stove. They will include sacrifice, food and cake using sweet rice. The purpose is to hope that The God of Stove saying something sweet to them at Heaven. Sweet rice is kind of sticky; so it can seam the mouth. The farewell meal must be served in the early morning, because returning to heaven is a long way trip. The God of Stove must leave in the morning, so he can arrive heaven on the same day. More detail more about God of Stove...
25th lunar day of 12th Lunar Month - Chinese New Year - Clean Day
Because the God of Stove left the house on the 24th of 12th lunar month, people start to clean the entire house on the next day, the 25th of 12th lunar month. To cleaning house is to dust every corner, clean all windows, wash all rooms. That's lots of chores and children need to share some works. Then they will plan how to do the house decoration for the coming new year.
Before Tang dynasty, cleaning house was a religion ceremony to get rid of disease. Year-end cleaning house was popular during Tang dynasty. The year-end clean day was set on 24th lunar day of 12th lunar month in Sung dynasty. Today, depending on geographic area, some people start the dusting job right after The God of Stove leaving the house on 24th. And some people move the Clean Day on 26th of 12th lunar month.
One folk song sings, "23rd day to farewell the God of Stove, 24th day to clean the house, 25th day to make tofu, 26th day to kill pig, 27th day to kill chicken, 28th day to make rice cake, 29th day to fry fat meat to preserve lard, 30th day to wait for new year". That tells some people choose the Farewell Day and Clean Day differently.
Chinese have to make different kind of rice cakes to worship the gods on the Chinese New Year's Eve. They have to do it a couple of days early, because it takes time to prepare those cakes. First, the rice need to be ground with water into milky paste, then let it dry. The different ingredient will be added and mixed to become sweet or salty cakes. Then steam it for hours.
The most popular sweet cakes are Nian-Gao and Fa-Gao . In Chinese, Nian is Year and Gao is Cake. So Nian-Gao means Year Cake. Since Nian-Gao is made of glutinous sweet rice and. Nian has the same sound with Chinese character Sticky. Nian-Gao is also called Sticky Cake. Fa literally means Prosperity. Gao has a similar sounds to Chinese character High. Eating Fa-Gao helps people's career, wealth and health to step higher.
Today, many Chinese directly buy the Nian-Gao and Fa-Gao from the supermarket. Nian-Gao can be cut into pieces, then fry or deep-fry it. Nian-Gao is very taste right after frying. Fa-Gao can be re-heat or re-steam before serving.
Winter Solstice is the longest night in China. It's in the cold December and Chinese eat Tang-Yuan to keep their body warm. In Chinese, Tang is soup and Yuan is round, which implies reunion, fully satisfaction. In old farmer society, the poor couldn't afford to have Tang-Yuan on the Winter Solstice.
Tang-Yuan are sweet glutinous balls made by sweet rice and served with hot sugar water. It's kind of sticky. Not every children can swallow them. So people make some in red color to make it prettier. Later, the variety of Tang-Yuan are invented. Tang-Yuan are filled with different ingredients inside such as red bean paste, creamy peanut or sesame paste. Also, Tang-Yuan can be served with whole red bean or whole peanut soup and become a tasty dessert.
To eat Tang-Yuan on the Winter Solstice is a required custom. All children are told that people can add one year for their age after eating Tang-Yuan.
Note: In Chou Dynasty (1122 B.C.), Chinese used Winter Solstice as the first day of the year. It might be too cold to celebrate the new year in the late December. Later, the Chinese New Year day was moved to early spring.
Chinese New Year Eve - 30th (or 29th) Lunar day of 12th Lunar Month
Chinese New Year Eve usually is on 30th lunar day of 12th lunar month. However, a lunar month might have only 29 days. In this case, the Chinese New Year Eve becomes on 29th day of 12th lunar month. The next day will be a new moon day, which is the Chinese New Year Day.
In Chinese, Chinese New Year Eve is called Chu-Xi or Guo-Nian . Chu means removal. Xi means night. Guo means passing. Nian means year.
Original meaning of Nian is related to farmer's harvest. Chinese Farmers celebrated their achievement for the past year, appreciated the gracious reward given from the god, and prayed for the same luck for the coming year.
Nobody knows when the legendary story about Nian began. Nian was a ferocious and carnivorous beast. It had lion-type head with elephant-type body. Nian couldn't find the food in the cold winter time, because many animals hibernated in the mountains. It must go down from the mountain to find the livestock. Later, It become a man-eater.
Nian was too strong to kill. Every winter night, people must stay inside the house. Years later, people found Nian was afraid of red, fire and noisy sound. So they cut red-color peach wood hanging on the door, made a campfire in the front of the door. When Nian approached the village, then people put the bamboo into the fire to make cracking sound. They also beat the metal kitchen and farming utensils to make noisy sound to scare Nian away.
People survived, celebrated and said congratulation each other on the next day. People felt like a restarting point after passing the disaster. Then, they called Guo-Nian (passing Nian) as the day before the new starting day.
House cleaning should be ready on or before the day Chinese New Year eve. But Chinese family is still very busy on this day. Early morning, someone has to go to flower-market to buy flowers for worship events and new year day decoration. Red is the auspicious color in China. The pink peach flower and Japanese sakura are very popular choices for the flower arrangement.
The first event on the Chinese New Year Eve is to worship Jade Emperor with flower and fruit without animal sacrifices (top ranking gods are vegetarian) in the early morning to thank the gracious protection from the god of heaven in the past year and pray for safe, smooth and luck for the coming year.
Many families probably are still working in the final house decoration. They need to finish the decoration on doors and windows. Chinese calligraphers write the New Year's poetry on the red color paper and people pasted them on the top and both of sides of main-entry door. They said this custom comes from the story of man-eater Nian animal, which was afraid of red. At the beginning, people drew The God of Door images on the red-color peach tree wood hanging on the door to scare the devil spirit away. Later, Chinese use red color paper instead. There is a even simpler way is to write a single character on the diamond-shape red paper and paste on the doors, windows, containers, posts, storages and money safety boxes. The popular characters are Spring, Luck, Full, Money, Happiness, Wealth, Safety or Prosperity. Some are posted upside down, because the sound of upside-down in Chinese is similar to the word of come. So the upside-down MONEY poster means money comes. The upside-down LUCK poster means the luck comes.
Long time ago, Chinese pasted the New Year paper-cutting arts on the windows. It's hard to find people doing this today, because it's required the experienced skill and lots of patience to create those art works. It's also quite time-consuming to put the arts on the windows.
In the afternoon around 2 or 3 P.M., Chinese need to say good-bye to the current year by telling the gods and ancestors at family Buddhist altar with Nian-Gao (sweet rice cake), Fa-Gao (steamed rice cake), animal sacrifices (pork, duck, chicken or fish), fruit, drink, candy with big red candles. Long time ago, one thing important and special is to put a hundred of coins tied with red thread to hope for good money luck and wish for longevity to 100 year old. Today, people put cash as much as you can instead.
After saying goodbye to gods and ancestors, women begin to prepare the reunion dinner. The main dish sitting on the center of the table is Hot-Pot. The traditional Hot-Pot is a big metal (alumni) bowel and has a hollow tube in the center. Chinese put hot bone soup in the bowel and cook different kind of sliced meat, seafood, vegetable, meat balls and seafood balls during the dinner. They put hot-rock or hot-coal inside the hollow tube to keep food warm. So they can eat the reunion dinner each for hours.
Chinese New Year day usually is close to spring, but it's very often that the weather is still cold. In ancient China, in order to eat the warm food, Chinese had to sit around the cooking stove for New Year Eve dinner. That's why this dinner is also called Wei-Lu , which means "surrounding the stove".
There are many dishes on the dinner table. Every dish has an auspicious meaning behind it. It's connected to longevity, reunion, perfection, good luck, health, diligence, satisfaction or promotion based on the homophone of the dish's name. Family members are supposed to have some from every dish. So they can eat and chat for longer time and share love and care during this time. However, Chinese don't touch fish on the table. This is because the homophone of fish is remainder, which means they have surplus or extra saving in the end of the year. In the other hand, they need leftover for Chinese New Year Day - nobody cooks at home.
After dinner, that's a exciting time for the children. They are waiting for New Year's Hong Bao , which is a Red Envelope containing the brand-new money. Adult or parents will hand out the Red Envelopes to children, unmarried immediate family and their parents before going to the bed. Children will put all Red Envelopes under the pillow when sleeping. They said children can sleep well without bad dream and become richer next year. The family expense increase sharply during Chinese New Year period. Usually, Chinese receive year-end bonus about one or two month salary pay. (The lucky one can even have one year salary) from the company before Chinese New Year holiday. Therefore most family can afford a better food, clothing and decoration for Chinese New Year. Banks will prepare many brand new bills for people to exchange. That's why all the lucky money in the Red Envelope are brand-new.
The last event is the vigil to wait for new year coming. One main reason is this can extend parents lifespan. The sound of Sleepiness in Chinese is similar to Trouble. Sleepless means no trouble for the coming year. How can Chinese keep them awake? It's simple. They watch TV shows for Chinese New Year special. The other way is gambling - playing Mah-Jong. It's required lots of skill, memorization, calculation, strategy and luck to win the money. Since the fully concentration, you will feel the time pass quickly. Usually, they will play Mah-Jong all night long, because the loser wouldn't quit.
Many people will gather outside the temple after reunion dinner, everyone wants to be the first person of the year to be blessed by the God. There is the first incense stick race at many temples every year. One the first second of Rat hour, 11 P.M., as soon as the temple's main gate is opened, people will dash into the temple to insert the incense stick into the incense container. The winner will win a big Red-Envelope from the temple. But the most important thing is the winner will be very lucky in the coming year.
After receiving the Red Envelopes, young people like to go outside for the vigil of the year. Before midnight, they gather with friends or relatives around park, riverside or tall buildings to wait for the Chinese New Year fireworks.