It is the Lunar New Year and everything in China seems to have turned red. Houses are decorated with red Spring Festival Couplets, red lanterns, and red paper cuttings and even city streets are lit up with red lanterns. This is because red in Chinese culture is the symbol of happiness, wealth and prosperity, and can ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. These red decorations are to the festival what Christmas trees are to Christmas.
It is such a beautiful time of the year to be in China and to experience this important festival. As this is my first year living in China during this festival I have done a little bit of research about it and have found some very interesting facts. Did you know that The holiday is also called “Spring Festival”? This surprised ma as it is in winter, but it is seen as the ‘Start of Spring’ . While wintry weather prevails, ‘Start of Spring’ marks the end of the coldest part of winter, when the Chinese traditionally could look forward to the beginning of spring. I do hope this is true and that it will be warming up soon.
Here are some more facts that you might find interesting.
Nearly all of the traditions and observed during Chinese New Year serve one purpose: to usher in as much good fortune and prosperity in the new year as possible. I like that they arrange things in a way to receive as much incoming luck as can be grabbed. Washing hair or clothes is not allowed on the first day of the lunar year because it is seen as “washing one’s fortune away” at the beginning of the year. Sweeping up and taking out the garbage symbolize removing the good luck from the house, so people don’t do that either.
The date for Chinese New Year changes each year. It always falls between January 21 and February 20, which is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar. Chinese New Year 2019 is on Tuesday February 5.
The lunar calendar is still really important in China, even though it has officially moved to the Gregorian calendar like the rest of the world. All traditional holidays and days such as the Winter Solstice are celebrated. Some people still calculate their birthdays and ages according to the lunar calendar too!
3. The festival is celebrated for 16 days till the Lantern Festival.Traditionally, the 16 days from New Year’s Eve until the Lantern Festival each have a special celebration activity. In the evening of the 15th day of the first lunar month (February 19, 2019), on the night of the full moon, families gather for dinner and go out and see fireworks and light lanterns. Lanterns are put up for decoration, let loose to fly, and floated in rivers. I can not wait to go and see this, although I think it is going to be very crowded.
4. It is a day for praying to gods
The Spring Festival was originally a ceremonial day to pray to gods for a good planting and harvest season. People also prayed to their ancestors, as they were treated as gods
5. And fighting off monsters
But the myths are much more interesting. According to one legend, there was a monster named Nian (年). It would come about every New Year’s Eve. Most people would hide in their homes. But one boy was brave enough to fight him off using firecrackers. The next day, people celebrated their survival by setting off even more firecrackers. And that practice became a crucial part of the Spring Festival.
6. The festival causes the world’s largest annual migration.
For Chinese people, the most important part of the Chinese Spring Festival is to enjoy a reunion dinner with their families on New Year’s Eve, even if they have to travel long distances. It is the longest public holiday and the whole country is on the move. 200 million Mainland Chinese travel long distances for these holidays, and it is estimated that there are 3.5 billion journeys in China. Tens of millions of people travel in other countries too. It makes the largest annual human migration in the world, known as the Spring Festival Travel Rush.
In China, where much of the migration takes place, it’s been claimed that trains are so overcrowded people have to wear adult diapers for their 24-hour journeys home. Something that I am glad I will be missing as I am spending the whole holiday in Shanghai.
Chinese people love the colour red. Giving red envelopes is a way to send good wishes and luck (as well as money). The practice of giving red envelopes (hong bao) with money inside has been digitized. People can send small gifts to friends, family, and employees digitally via China’s messaging apps. The world record for most text messages sent in a day is broken each year during Chinese New Year. The current record was 19 billion.
Per the Chinese calendar, Chinese New Year in 2019 begins the year 4716. The future seems to have arrived because year numbering was once based on the whim of emperors and when they decided a new era had begun.
Most mainland Chinese believe that the flash and bang of firecrackers and fireworks scare away demons and evil ghosts. The loud bangs and chaos are meant to frighten away the Nian, a mythological beast that once came around to eat villagers.
Always a country that likes to do things big and set records, China has often grabbed the record for the world’s largest organized fireworks display during Chinese New Year. Fireworks have been banned here in Shanghai so unfortunately I did not get to see this display.
10. Singles hire fake boy/girlfriends to take home.
Chinese New Year is a joyful time for most, but for singles above the normal matrimonial age it’s not. In China, females are said to be marriageable up to 30, and males before 32. For “old” singles, parents are extremely anxious. So New Year’s Eve stress is heightened by embarrassing interrogations of the singles. Desperate parents even arrange dating (prospective marriages) for their single children.
To solve this problem an interesting solution has appeared — renting a boyfriend or girlfriend for the New Year. There are websites and agents who specialize in this business. It is quite sad that people need to go to this extreme just to avoid being questioned by their family.
I look forward to going out in Shanghai to check out the parades, lion dances, lantern statues, and amazing food!