The Year of the Monkey is coming to an end when on January 28 we will celebrate the start of the Year of the Rooster! Contrary to Western New Year's celebrations that last only one night, Chinese New Year rituals and festivities can last up to two weeks! Let's talk a bit about how to celebrate Chinese New Year, how to prepare for the new year, how not to offend people, and how it all began!
If you have ever seen a Chinese New Year's celebration, you probably had an attack of the senses through the sounds, sights, crowds and food you have encountered. The colour red is everywhere, thousands of firecrackers keep on exploding on every corner and in every doorway, the smell of incense hangs in the air and if you are lucky, you see dancers carrying a great dragon on the rhythm of drumbeats through the streets. Legend said that a great monster would come out of the ocean on New Year's Eve and ate all everyone it could find. But during one New Year's Eve villagers found out that loud noises, the colour red and Chinese lions and dragons would scare the monster and expel it. So making lots of noise, putting red on everything and dancing with lions and dragons will repel all evil spirits. The more noise, the better!
Before triumphing over the evil spirits on New Year's Eve, people would clean their house to swipe away any ill fortune from the previous year and make room for incoming good luck. Old decorations are burned and replaced with new ones (check out some ideas here ;). But when the new year arrives all dust pans and brooms should be hidden away. You would not want to swipe away any new good luck coming your way, right?
A new year is a new start, so it is considered a good idea to purchase new clothing or shoes and to pay off your debts. (Wearing red underwear is a very good start!) Many people also extend gifts to business partners and friends as a sign of good relations and gratitude. A red envelope with cash is a common gift for family members, while business partners exchange chocolates and cakes. Be careful when selecting gifts because some items are considered bad luck or taboo! These include an old bank note, pears, watches, scissors, shoes, mirrors and umbrellas. (Best stick to those chocolates!)
The Chinese New Year is also the start of the greatest annual migration of people in the world! Young people from the big cities in China will travel to their families who often live in small villages in rural areas. Most businesses close for a week (something which is unheard of during the rest of the year), hotels are fully booked and you can forget finding travel ticket for bus or airplane. Families will have a big reunion dinner in the house of the most senior family member with lots and lots of delicious and special foods. Fish will be on the menu but will never be eaten completely, but stored as leftovers. The idea is that one should wish for abundance for the coming year, a word that sounds the same as fish!
On the fifteenth and final day of the traditional Chinese New Year festivities, the Lantern Festival is celebrated. This practice goes back for more than 2000 years! Grownups and children will carry lanterns painted red for good luck, covered in riddles or even in the shape of animals. Nowadays, letting the lantern rise up symbolizes letting go of your past self and getting a new you, but there are many different origin stories and legends. One legend tells us that the favourite crane of the Jade Emperor in Heaven flew one day down to earth near a small village. A couple of villagers saw the crane but did not know where this crane came from or whom it belonged to. They hunted it down and killed it. This act angered the Jade Emperor terribly and he ordered the heavenly troops to burn down this village. However, the Jade Emperor's daughter warned the villagers that the heavenly troops would destroy their village. The poor people did not know what to do until a wise man came up with a plan. He told them to put up red lanterns, explode firecrackers and create bonfires everywhere. When the heavenly troops came down on the fifteenth day of the lunar day they saw a village already ablaze, and returned to heaven to report to the Emperor. From that day on, people celebrate the fifteenth day of the lunar year by lighting their lanterns!
Repel the evil spirits from your house, let go of the past, be grateful for your friends and celebrate with your family! We wish everyone a happy Year of the Rooster & will be back next week with a good Feng shui advice!
- January 20, 2017
- Shirin Ressang