Chinese New Year is one of three major Chinese festivals each year (Chinese New Year新年, Dragon Boat Festival (端午节and Moon Festival中秋节). Chinese New Year is also known as Spring Festival (春节chūn jié) and is based on lunar calendar, so the date varies each year. The first day of the Chinese New Year falls on the new moon between January 21st and February 20th. The 2019 Chinese New Year day begins on Tuesday, February 5th and ends Tuesday, February 19th, which is the full moon of the 15th day of the 1st lunar month, known as the Lantern Festival (元宵节yuán xiāo jié).
Chinese New Year is a time for reunion and draws family members back home to celebrate a year of hard work with relaxation and togetherness. It also represents the new hopes and aspirations of Chinese people who wish for a lucky and prosperous coming year.
The history of the Chinese New Year begins with the Legend of Nian (年). A long time ago, there was a ferocious Monster named Nian, which sounds the same as the Chinese word for “Year”. Towards the end of a year, Nian would run to the villages at night and attack people. The people scared Nian away with the color red, fire and noises. So people repeated the ritual generation after generation until it became the custom we know today as Chinese New Year. Thus, we also call Chinese New Year “过年 Guo Nian” which means pass year.
There is another story, in Chinese mythology, of a great race who decided the order of animals in the Zodiac. The Jade Emperor, the ruler of all gods within Chinese mythology, hosted a race which finished with a river crossing for the animals. The rat won first place and the ranking of the twelve animals came to be: (1) Rat, (2) Ox, (3) Tiger, (4) Rabbit, (5) Dragon, (6) Snake, (7) Horse, (8) Sheep, (9) Monkey, (10) Rooster, (11) Dog, (12) Pig. These zodiac animals appear as a rotating cycle of 12 years, with each year being represented by an animal sign. For example, 2019 is the year of Pig.
The traditions of Chinese New Year include:
1) thoroughly cleaning the house, purchasing new clothes and items and putting up decorations a week before the Chinese New Year,
2) eating reunion dinner with family on New Year's Eve,
3) staying up the whole night, or past midnight, waiting for the arrival of the New Year,
4) firecrackers and fireworks,
5) giving red envelopes and other gifts,
6) visiting family members, neighbors and friends to wish them the best for the upcoming year.
Chinese New Year is a cherished holiday in Chinese culture. Please remember to say “Happy Chinese New Year 中国新年快乐zhōng guó xīn nián kuài lè ” or “Congratulations恭喜gōngxǐ ” to your Chinese friends and colleagues and they will appreciate your effort in showing respect and understanding towards their most culturally significant celebration.