10 Things you probably didn’t know about Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is just around the corner so we compiled some facts about this festive occasion we think you should know about. 

Chinese New Year has many names – in China, it is known as chunjie (??) or the Spring Festival as it marks the end of the coldest days and was originally a ceremonial day for people to pray to gods and to their ancestors (like in Mulan!) It is also commonly referred to as the Lunar New Year.

There’s no set date for Chinese New Year – because it follows the lunar calendar, the festival date changes every year. This year, Chinese New Year falls on 5th February, but celebrations last for 16 days starting on New Year’s Eve till Lantern Festival.

The festival causes the biggest human migration on the planet – spending time with family is the essence of Chinese Year. No matter where they are, people try their best to return home making it the world’s largest annual migration, known as chunyun (??) or Spring Migration. Often, the spring festival is the only chance families have to reunite with each other during the year.

Foods have special meanings – the reunion dinner is the most important meal of the year and takes place on New Year’s Eve. Rice cakes called Nian gao (??) are commonly served to symbolise success. Dumplings are eaten to symbolise the exchange between the old and New Year. Some people put a coin in a random dumpling and whoever picks it will have great luck that year. Meanwhile, noodles are uncut to represent long life and people will slurp and try not to chew it as the longer the noodle, the longer your life will be!

It is a time when the most fireworks are set off in the world – according to legend, a beast called Nian (?) would come every New Year’s Eve to terrorise the villages. Firecrackers were used to fight him off and were also used to celebrate the next day. Today, fireworks are still set off to scare off demons and bad luck. The louder the better and towns transform into mine fields. You’ll probably hear or see the explosions for at least three nights though it can go on for weeks!

There are plenty of traditions and superstitions to be observed – the colour red is believed to scare away evil spirits and brings good luck. It also symbolises happiness, wealth and prosperity so houses, shops and city streets are decked in anything red from lanterns to even string of chili peppers! There are also plenty of things people avoid doing. Showering, sweeping and throwing out garbage are not allowed on certain days as to not discard any of the good fortune!

Money is received and given – children receive red envelopes from relatives which are stuffed with lucky money and is thought to transfer fortune from the elders to the younger generation. It is also given between bosses and employees. These days, people have started sending them digitally especially into group chats where others fight for the money and is known as qiang hongbao (???), or literally “snatching red pockets”.

2019 is the year of the pig – in China, every 12 years is regarded as a small lunar cycle and each year is marked by a zodiac sign: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. However, the year of your zodiac sign is believed to be the unluckiest for you. To counter this, people would wear and decorate their homes in, not surprisingly, red!

People hire fake boyfriends or girlfriends – the festival can be an anxious time for singles who are above the expected matrimonial age and many have resorted to desperate measures to please their parents. There are now websites and apps where people can rent a partner for the New Year and rental prices can go up to £180 per day!

Chinese new year is celebrated around the world – celebrating the Chinese New Year is not only limited to China. In fact this year, the Contemporary Chinese society is hosting a two-day event starting on 4th February. Expect a variety of talks on Chinese culture as well as workshops on calligraphy, lantern making and many more. There will be food vendors and finally, a grand finale performance on 5th will showcase the amazing talent we have here at the university. Chinese New Year is a time for people to stay together, so whether or not you celebrate it, come along and join in with the festivities.

For more information follow the Facebook event.

Aprilyn Umel

Featured image courtesy of University of Essex via Flickr. Image license here. 

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