Friday, January 15, 2010

Chinese New Year

Introduction

Chinese New Year falls on the first day of the lunar calendar, the month after the end of Winter (冬至). Due to the different number of days per month of the two calendars, Chinese New Year falls on a different date (on the solar calendar) each year. The Chinese celebrate the New Year for a total of 15 days.

Originally, the Lunar New Year was called 春节, or Spring Festival. It symbolized a time of renewed fertility of the earth for famers, as spring was now in place of winter. This occassion also marks a fresh start in life, to hope for a happy and prosperous new year.


Clearing of Debts

To start off the new year good, old debts are often cleared before Lunar New Year, to avoid shame and misfortune. Lunar New Year's Eve is only one of the three Chinese festivals set aside for such debts to be cleared (the other two being Dragon Boat Festival 端午节and Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节). Conventionally, creditors could no longer demand payment of a debt by Lunar New Year's Day.


Spring Cleaning

Spring-cleaning is held before New Year's Day, to sweep away all the misfortune. This way, the New Year is welcomed with a clean start. On the other hand, to sweep on the First New Year's Day to the Sixth New Year's Day, is to sweep away good fortune. Hence, dust must be swept inwards from the outside, and everything must look new or clean for fortune to smile on the family. Decorations are also put up, such as the character fu (chinese for fortune) hung upside down, so that it will form fu dao “ 福倒 ” (fortune upside down), a pun for fu dao “ 福到 ” (fortune arrives).


Red Packets

The best part of Chinese New Year for the children is to receive traditional gifts of money, wrapped up in a red packet called hong bao 红包, from their parents and elderly married persons. The amount in the packet should be an even number, to be lucky and auspicious. Children are expected to accept red packets graciously, with customary good wishes. It is bad manners to open red packets in the presence of others.

According to ancient belief, the first day of the new year was the birthday of chickens; the second day, dogs; the third day, pigs; the fourth day, sheep; the fifth day, cows; the sixth day, horses; the seventh day, humans; and the eighth day, grains. It them became customary for Chinese to celebrate an additional birthday: the seventh day of the new year, called ren ri 人日.

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