Much of the world is gearing up to celebrate Chinese New Year which this year falls on Sunday 10 February 2013 will be the Year of the Snake and this is how communities celebrate the Chinese New Year around the world;
Unlike the Gregorian calendar’s New Year that takes place on 31 December, the Chinese New Year is a celebration, sandwiched between the end of winter and the joyous beginning of spring. The most important of all Chinese celebrations and holidays, Chinese New Year is an exhilarating and colourful festival that includes spending time with family, giving presents, enjoying good food and displaying colourful decorations. This year is in honour of the snake following last year’s Year of the Dragon.
End the Year with the Lantern Festival
The Chinese celebrate the close of the previous year and prepare for the new one with a Lantern Festival. During the festivities, people gather together with immediate and extended family for feasting at an annual reunion dinner. This important meal is usually held at the home of the most senior member of the family or at a venue close by.
The night is decorated with hundreds of traditional paper lanterns that illuminate the celebration. Children carry these lanterns, decorated with riddles for them to solve, to the temples. At the close of this night, flying paper lanterns are released into the night sky, symbolizing the end of the year and the letting go of the past self.
The Chinese New Year is celebrated in more countries than just China. Singapore, Macau, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Mauritius, and the Philippines are more that take place in this all-important celebration, laden with tradition from centuries and centuries of history. Chinese communites across the world also join in the celebrations in the USA, UK, Canada and Australia. The Vietnamese New Year also coincides with Chinese New Year.
Over time, the lengthy holiday has gained increasing significance because of the myths and traditions that have developed. As it has done so, it has continued to influence these surrounding Asian countries in their own celebrations of the new lunar year.
Celebrations around the World
The Chinese New Year holiday is celebrated all over the globe, in most of the same ways it is commemorated in Asia. Family gatherings and good food as well as festive decorations in rich shades of red and gold are all indicative of the New Year. The exchanging of money packets is one tradition celebrators in all countries enjoy.
In the USA the holiday is celebrated with an exciting parade that features fireworks, martial artists, lion dancers, stilt walkers, dancers, and a 250-foot golden dragon. Honolulu celebrates with festivals and dragon boat races. Other places like London, Finland, and France put on elaborate performances, lion dances, and grand parades in honour of the Chinese New Year.
Coming together for traditional food
During the Chinese New Year, family gatherings centered around big meals include traditional dishes such as pork, fish, seafood, duck, chicken, and sweet treats like the Chinese New Year cake called Niangao. One feature of the reunion dinner is the hot pot. This one-pot dish is a communal food that symbolizes harmony and the coming together of the various members of family to share in the mealtime.
Because the Chinese New Year focuses on all things good such as health, wealth, and happiness, the foods that are eaten at this dinner represent these things. Their consumption is believed to promote them. Red packets or red envelopes are a form of gift giving that takes place on this special night. These are usually filled with gifts like money that represent good luck and honourability.
The most important Chinese holiday
The longest of them all, the Chinese New Year is the most important as well. According to ancient legend, the holiday began with an epic battle against Nian, a mythical beast who would ravage the village on the first day of every new year. The villagers would place food outside their doors as an offering to appease Nian, in hopes he would stop killing their crops, livestock, and children.
One day a villager noticed how Nian cowered at a little child wearing red. Since then, the villagers would adorn their houses and themselves with the colour red, hanging lanterns and scrolls on windows and doors. Along with loud fireworks, these methods kept Nian at bay until an ancient Taoist monk captured and subdued him. That is why the Chinese New Year is celebrated with 15 days of dragons, lion dances, fireworks, and bright shades of red.
By Julie Bowman