Chinese New Year or ‘Spring Festival’ is a very important festivity for Chinese people everywhere, it is also China’s most important festival and holiday time. Chinese New Year 2019 falls on Tuesday, February 5, 2019, beginning a year of the Pig. China’s public holiday will be February 4–10, 2019. The exact date of the Chinese New Year changes from year to year, but is always between 21 January and 19 February. In recent decades, it has been the second day of a 7-day public holiday in Mainland China. In ancient China people used the moon to calculate time, and in the Chinese lunar calendar every month begins with the new moon.
The festival has a history of over 3,000 years. Celebrations on lunar New Year’s Day can be dated back to the ancient worship of heaven and earth. Over the centuries new traditions were added and celebrations became more entertainment-orientated. In 1967 food was rationed, and there was no money! Greetings were full of Communist fervor. Now people eat out for Chinese New Year, send e-money, and greet with instant messages on WeChat (the most popular app in China).
Chinese New Year 2019 is the Year of the Pig. In popular Chinese astrology Chinese New Year is important… For Chinese people, years begin at Chinese New Year, rather than January 1! 2018: It’s Dog year 2018 until February 4th 2019 (Chinese New Year’s Eve). 2019: A year of the Pig will start on February 5th. 2020: A year of the Rat will start on January 25th. Every year of the Chinese Calendar has an animal’s name. These animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake,horse, sheep, monkey, cockerel, dog and pig. The Chinese believe that a person born in a particular year has some of the characteristics of that animal.
Chinese families celebrate the new year for two weeks and their main activities include 1) putting up decorations, 2) eating reunion dinner with family on New Year’s Eve, 3) firecrackers and fireworks, and 4) giving red envelopes and other gifts. Chinese New Year merchandiseRed decorations, red wrapped gifts, and red clothes are everywhere at Chinese New Year. They decorate their houses, towns and villages with coloured lanterns, flowers and many other decorations. They carefully clean the house and throw away old things. This means they are throwing away the bad luck of the past year.
In many Chinese cities, from New Year’s Day, traditional performances can be seen: dragon dances, lion dances, and imperial performances like an emperor’s wedding. A great variety of traditional Chinese products are on offer, and rarely seen Chinese snacks. City parks and temple fairs are the places to go for this. Every street, building, and house where Spring Festival is celebrated is decorated with red. Red is the main color for the festival, as red is believed to be an auspicious color. Red Chinese lanterns hang in streets; red couplets are pasted on doors; banks and official buildings are decorated with red New Year pictures depicting images of prosperity. Most public decoration is done a month before, but home decoration is traditionally done on Chinese New Year’s Eve. As 2019 will be a year of the Pig, decorations related to pigs will be commonly seen. Look out for red pig dolls for children and New Year paintings with pigs on. The festive period is one of the best times of the year to interact with Chinese people, and experience the local culture. However, it is also the busiest time of the year on China’s transportation network. So, you might want to avoid the transport stress or seek out China’s New Year culture, or both…
It is very important for the Chinese to be with their families on New Year’s Eve. Wherever they are, people are expected to be home to celebrate the festival with their families. The New Year’s Eve dinner is called ‘reunion dinner’, and is believed to be the most important meal of the year. On this occasion the family eats a big, delicious meal together with many meaningful dishes. Fish is always part of the dinner, along with rice, different meats and vegetables. Each food has a special meaning, and the Chinese believe these foods bring good luck. Fish means an increase in prosperity, Chinese dumplings signify great wealth, and a Glutinous rice cake means a higher income or position. During this holiday period is also very common to visit nearby friends or relatives.
Like people waiting in New York Time Square to see the ball dropping, Chinese people have the custom of staying up late on Chinese New Year’s Eve to welcome the new year’s arrival. After reunion dinner, families normally sit together to watch the Spring Festival Gala, one of the most watched TV shows in China. At the same time, most people send WeChat red envelopes or short messages to acquaintances by phone. It has been a long Chinese tradition to set off firecrackers from the first minute of their new year. Fireworks have increasingly been added to the cacophony. From public displays in major cities to millions of private celebrations in China’s rural areas, setting off firecrackers and fireworks is an indispensable festivity.
On New Year’s Day the Chinese wear new clothes to symbolyze the New Year. Red is a popular colour because the Chinese believe that it is lucky. Like at Christmas in other countries, people exchange gifts during the Spring Festival. In rural areas and for older people the New Year gift giving tradition is still strong, but increasingly younger people prefer just to receive red envelopes (by hand or electronically). The most common New Year gifts are red envelopes. Parents and family members give children the traditional New Year’s gift called “Lai see” (lucky money), that is a red and gold envelope with some money inside. They are given also to retirees and customarily only employers give red envelopes to working adults. Businesses and public institutions in China take a 7-day Chinese New Year holiday, except those who need to have some staff on duty. However, most large malls, tourist attractions, public transport, hotels, and restaurants will open as usual, or even stay open longer! When the public holiday period ends, China prepares to go back to work. Life returns to normal and schools reopen on Feb. 27.
In China people are becoming less superstitious, but Chinese people traditionally believe that the year’s start affects the whole year, so the Chinese Spring Festival is a season of superstitions. It’s believed that what something looks like (color, shape), and what its name sounds like, gives it auspicious or ill-fated properties. The Luckiest Things to Do at Chinese New Year are: giving money/gifts in lucky numbers and lucky red packaging with lucky greetings. Eating lucky food like fish on New Year’s Eve, especially carp or catfish with some left over for New Year’s Day. Lighting lots of red firecrackers and fireworks to scare away evil and bring good luck. The Unlucky Things to Do at Chinese New Year are: having an accident, especially if it means hospital visits, crying, and breakages: all bad omens. Giving gifts with unlucky meanings, colors, words, or numbers, or even saying something inauspicious. Sweeping up on New Year’s Day: don’t “sweep all your luck away”.
There are a lot of big Chinese communities outside China. In many big cities such as London, New York and San Francisco there are areas called “Chinatown”. In these areas there are many Chinese shops and restaurants. Chinese New Year is a big celebration both for the Chinese and the local people of these places, and there are a lot of colourful decorations in the streets of every Chinatown. In New York City, the new year begins with 600,000 firecrackers, a ritual believed to frighten away bad spirits. There is a grand parade through Manhattan’s Chinatown, with elaborate floats, bands, lion and dragon dances, Chinese musicians and acrobats. One last thing to remember: sweeping up on New Year’s Day is considered unlucky. Don’t sweep all your luck away!
A very important celebration is the parade on New Year’s Day, when there are a lot of spectacular floats. The dragon is an important part of the parade because people believe it is noble and lucky. In the parade a dragon can sometimes be twenty-five metres long and can have about sixty men move under its body and tail! People often throw money at the dragon and the dragon tries to catch it in its big mouth. Sometimes there is more than one dragon in the parade. If so, there is a dancing competition between the dragons.
Lion dancing is an ancient Chinese tradition, and lion dancers are always part of the parade. Two men usually move under each lion. It has a big head and a long body. Musicians play the drums and cymbals too during the lion dance. There are also noisy fireworks. The Chinese believe that the noise frightens evil spirits. During the parade children represent the twelve animals of the Chinese calendar. Chinese children like wearing the costume of their favourite animal during the parade. There are also acrobats and musicians in beautiful costumes. Most of the costumes and masks in the parade come from China.
The Chinese zodiac gives each year an animal sign. Read the characteristics of your sign. Are they true? Why or why not?
Years: 1960 1972 1984 1996 Character: happy, charming, ambitious
Years: 1961 1973 1985 1997 Character: works hard, patient, timid
Years: 1962 1974 1986 1998 Character: strong personality, courageous, temperamental
Years: 1963 1975 1987 1999 Character: peaceful, sociable, secretive
Years: 1964 1976 1988 2000 Character: energetic, honest, generous
Years: 1965 1977 1989 2001 Character: sensitive, responsible, careful with money
Years: 1966 1978 1990 2002 Character: popular, talkative, independent
Years: 1967 1979 1991 2003 Character: gentle, intelligent, loves beautiful things
Years: 1968 1980 1992 2004 Character: intelligent, creative, solve problems easily
Years: 1969 1981 1993 2005 Character: faithful, punctual, eccentric
Years: 1970 1982 1994 2006 Character: loyal, honest, good leader
Years: 1971 1983 1995 2007 Character: strong, kind, likes to learn