新年快乐! (Xīnnián kuàilè!)

Happy New Year! 

Today marks the start of Chinese New Year. This 15-day festival is celebrated by over two billion people worldwide and is not limited to just China or the Chinese. More appropriately called Lunar New Year, this festival marks the start of Spring, and is often referred to as the Spring Festival. Celebrated in countries across Asia — from China to Vietnam to Singapore and everywhere in between — it falls between January 21st and February 20th each year and traditionally marks the coldest part of winter, and therefore, the coming on of spring for the Chinese. 

For families in China, it is the biggest holiday of the year, and many get three weeks off of work to travel back to their home towns and spend time with family. For this reason, it has also become known worldwide as the time of the “Great Migration” in China, as millions of migrant workers pile onto buses and trains to make their way out of the cities and back to the rural countrysides where many of their families still live. For most of these migrant workers, this is the only time of year they will see their family — for many, the only time of year they will see their own children. During the year, they reside in cramped tenement-style quarters in the cities where they work in factories to earn money to send back and support their family.

Traditions of Chinese New Year

Red Envelopes: Spring Festival is full of traditions for the Chinese. One such tradition is that of the Red Envelope — or “Hong Bao.” These envelopes are traditionally given from the older generation to the younger (or from bosses to employees) as a type of bonus, or good luck gift. Red is used because it is a symbol of happiness, energy, and good luck. 

Chinese Zodiac Year: Each Chinese year filters through the twelve animals in the zodiac year. This year is the year of the Goat (or, Sheep). This is based off of the ancient belief that Buddha once met with all of the animals on the first day of the new year, and he assigned a year to each of the animals that came. Tradition holds that people demonstrate certain characteristics of the animals representing the year in which they were born. 

The Lantern Festival: On the evening of the 15th day of the first lunar month, families share a large, traditional dinner together, followed by the viewing of fireworks (and I mean fireworks displays like you have never seen before) and the hanging and releasing of traditional Chinese lanterns. The Lantern Festival also involves the dragon dance, featuring beautiful ornate dragon costumes worn by teams of dancers who weave their way through the streets during the parades. Fireworks also play a large part in all Chinese New Year celebrations. While fireworks are traditionally used for celebration in the United States, in China, they are believed to ward off evil spirits and provide protection into the coming year. This is why fireworks are also used to mark weddings, the birth of a child, the opening of a new store, or other momentous occasions. 

 Traditional decorations used for Chinese New Year … 

Here’s a closer look … 

Chinese New Year is one of the most fascinating festivals around the world — and if you get the chance, head to China (or elsewhere in Asia) to celebrate it in person sometime! 

 

Featured image credit