Chinese New Year, pronounced in Chinese as "xin nian", always falls on the date marking the beginning of Spring and thus it is also called the "Spring Festival". "xin" means "new" and "nian" means "year". The actual date for Chinese New Year is the second new moon after the winter solstice.
In 2013 (year 4710 on the Chinese calendar - Gānzhī (干支). Chinese New Year falls on Sunday 10th February 2013.
Celebrations start on the eve of the new moon and end 15 days later with the full moon lantern festival.
Chinese year name conventions
The Gregorian calendar was adopted by China in 1912 and is used for civil purposes. The Chinese calendar is used for determining festivals.
The Chinese Lunar New Year is the longest chronological record in history, dating from 2600BC, when the Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the zodiac.
Like the Western calendar, the Chinese Lunar Calendar is a yearly one, with the start of the lunar year being based on the cycles of the moon. Therefore, because of this cyclical dating, the beginning of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. A complete cycle takes 60 years and is made up of five cycles of 12 years each.
There are three ways to name a Chinese year:
- By the Chinese Lunar calendar.
The Chinese Lunar Calendar names each of the twelve years after an animal - the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog , and boar. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. Only twelve came to bid him farewell and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on personality, saying: "This is the animal that hides in your heart".
2013 is the Year of the Water Snake
2012 was the Year of the Water Dragon
2011 was the Year of the Metal Rabbit.
- By its former lunisolar name.
Each year is given a name using a system which is at least 2,000 years old. Two series, one with ten Celestial stems (shi tiangan) and one with twelve Terrestrial branches (shier dizhi). Each year is assigned a character from each list, in order. Using this system in 60 years (60 is the least common multiple of 10 and 12), the Name of the Year will be repeated and recycled back to the beginning of both lists.
2013 is the year of guǐsì (癸巳) (celestial stem: Gui and hourly branch: Si) and is the 30th year in the current 60-year cycle.
2012 was the year of rénchén (壬辰) (celestial stem: Ren and hourly branch: Chen) and is the 29th year in the current 60-year cycle.
2011 was the year of xīnmăo (辛卯) (celestial stem: Xen and hourly branch: Mao) and is the 28th year in the current 60-year cycle.
- By its Chinese year.
2013/2014 is year 4710 in the Chinese calendar.
2012/2013 is year 4709 in the Chinese calendar.
2011/2012 was year 4708 in the Chinese calendar.
The Chinese New Year festival celebrates the earth coming back to life when ploughing and sowing can begin, so food plays an important part. Much of the food consumed for the festival has symbolic meaning. For example, the names of some foods sound similar to characters with lucky connotations, while the shape or colour of other foods is symbolic of things such as happiness, prosperity and good fortune. Kumquat plants, which are popular presents, have little golden fruits, considered lucky.
Even though the climax of the Chinese New Year, Nian, lasts only two or three days, preparations start almost a month before. Houses are thoroughly cleaned to sweep away any bad luck, debts are repaid, hair cut and new clothes bought. Doors and window frames are repainted, usually red, and then decorated with paper scrolls. At this time of cold weather, warming foods are eaten like hot rice soup containing nuts, dried lotus seeds, red beans and dried dates. Eating rice soup is also considered to be purifying the body for the New Year.
Kitchen Gods' Day
On Kitchen Gods' Day, the 24th day of the month before, it's time to appease the kitchen gods before they head up to heaven where they report on the family's activities. Traditions include burning images of the kitchen gods to symbolise their departure - brushing honey or sugar on to their lips before burning is meant to improve your chances of their saying sweet things about you.
New Year's Eve
On New Year's Eve houses are brightly lit and families gather together for a large meal. The traditional food depends on whether you're from south China - sticky-sweet glutinous rice pudding called nian gao - or the north - steamed dumpling called jiaozi (or djiaozi). Most people stay up all night celebrating and at midnight fireworks and firecrackers are set off to frighten away evil spirits.
On the day itself, an ancient custom called Hong Bao, meaning Red Packet, takes place. Children wake up early to find the small red envelopes known as “Lai Si” (Cantonese) or “Hong Bao” (Mandarin) envelope containing sweets or "lucky money" under their pillows.
Typically at Chinese New Year Lai Si is given by married couples to children and unmarried people. The red is used as the most auspicious colour, while the decoration may have a blessing or good wish. The symbolic giving of the money represents a wish for fortune and wealth in the coming year. And then the new year greetings begin: Gong Xi Fa Cai - (Mandarin / Putonghua) or Kung Hei Fat Choi - (Cantonese).
The literal translation of “Gong Xi” is “to wish” and “Fa Cai” means “to prosper”.
So “Gong Xi Fa Cai” means “I wish that you will be prosperous”.
In China today the public holiday lasts for three days, but traditionally the festivities continue until the 15th day of the lunar month when the Lantern Festival is held. Everywhere is decorated with a variety of different sized lanterns and there is music and dancing in the streets. One special feature is the dragon dance, where a huge dragon head and body, supported by a team of dancers weaves its way around the streets collecting money from houses on its route. Once again food plays its part and yuanxioa is served. This is a sweet or savoury dumpling made from glutinous rice flour that is either boiled or fried.
Some Chinese New Year Taboos
The Chinese utilise a lot of the lucky words and signs to express their desire for good fortune and a good life. For fear their desires won't come true there are also some taboos to be observed.
During the New Year period, superstitious Chinese refrain from saying anything bad and prohibit quarrelling. It is believed that unlucky words spoken will affect the rest of the year. For instance words that sound like unlucky or undesirable events may not be spoken during the New Year's festival. Chinese avoid saying anything about death, losing money or becoming poor. In most Chinese dialects, the pronunciation of the word "four" has the same sound as the word "to die". Thus four is considered an unlucky number. People avoid saying the word "four" or using things in fours.
People believe they should neither sweep nor wash the floors and that all brooms should be hidden away.
Nothing should be disposed of until the fifth day of the lunar new year as it is symbolises throwing away wealth.
Nothing should be broken during the festive season. Breaking of articles is said results in break-up of wealth or family unity. However, if something is accidentally broken, such as a bowl or cup, Chinese people will say “sui-sui ping-an” 'which means “year after year will be safe and peaceful” at the scene because the first two characters, “sui sui”, are pronounced the same as the word that means “to be broken, smashed into pieces” in Chinese.
Ceremonies are held to ”welcome the gods of the heavens and earth”. Lion and dragon dancing are seen everywhere to repel evil and bring good fortune.
People often choose to wear traditional Chinese clothing, such as the Chinese silk jacket, as a mark of respect for their ancestors.
We at Art Treasures Gallery wish you Good fortune, Success and Longevity in this coming year of the Snake.
Gong Xi Fa Cai.