I’m sure many of you have started to hear about the Lunar Year, popularly known as the Chinese New Year. This event is very meaningful for the Asian culture and this 2021 will start on February 12 as the Year of the Ox.
It is called the Lunar Year because it marks the first new moon on the lunar calendar.
Another name for this event is the Spring Festival. This name emerged on 1949, when the Communist Party Leader, Mao Zedong, wanted to replace “everything that was old” with new traditions, including religions, celebrations, and even superstitions.
In China, it is celebrated during 15 days, starting with a family dinner with traditional Lunar Year food, such as spring rolls (aka Eggrolls), dumplings, noodles, steamed fish and chicken, rice cakes, and hot pot. It ends with the Lantern Festival.
This event is a time for new beginnings and family gatherings, the latter being so important!
The themes are usually fortune, happiness, and health, because that’s what everyone wishes to have throughout the year.
The Spring Festival is a week of vacations in China. A lot of people travel and there’s a lot of traffic because people return home to celebrate with family.
Last year, I attended the New Year celebration at my university and the Chinese community was very sad because they couldn’t return home, as COVID-19 was spreading fast in China. Many of the Chinese people didn’t attend the event out of respect for their families in China. My Chinese professors were saddened, but they did the best they could and collected money for supplies to help people at hospitals and people in need.
This festivity has become popular in America because of the large Asian population living there. Many people travel to see the parades and performances organized in Chinatown.
I myself, as a language student, have participated in the celebration once. It was a gorgeous and happy festivity. I danced with fans and modeled a Hanfu. I could experience a lot of the traditions and I dare to say I felt so welcomed. A beautiful experience!
Every family celebrate the Lunar Year in a different way, but there are some traditions that you will always find.
• Upside down character of “luck” 福 [fú]
During the Lunar Year, is common to find posters with the character that means luck, hung upside down. This is because it sounds like the word for “arriving” or “beginning” 俶 [chù], and they believe if they put it that way, good luck will pour over you. Also, fun fact, the character upside down looks like a tiny person arriving to a door.
These are the red envelopes full of money. Traditionally, an older person will give them to children and unmarried people. This tradition comes from the ancestors, as they would gift golden coins to shoo evil spirits.
Besides being fun to explode, is a belief that firecrackers work against the ancient spirit of Nian, who comes out during the new year. It’s something similar to the old man that represents the old year.
• Lion and Dragon Dance
This is one of the prettiest and most impressive activities. Dancers and gymnasts get inside a costume, one will be the bottom and the other will be the front and they start to dance and move to give the impression that the lion is dancing. To make the lion stand in two legs, one jumps over the shoulders of the other. It’s really impressive!
The Dragon Dance is composed of dancers who will hold a pole to make the body of the dragon flow. This is also done to send away evil spirits.
The holiday is all about bringing in good fortune and happiness. This is why everyone dresses in red and the decorations is usually red and gold.
The Lantern Festival includes many activities such as moon gazing, lighting lanterns, riddle games, lion dance, and eating rice balls. This celebration is believed to be the true Chinese Valentine’s Day, as in the past, it was a day where women were allowed to stroll freely at night.
This festival came up when the Emperor Wen wanted to celebrate the return of peace. He made it a holiday to light candles and lanterns. Then, the Emperor Ming heard about the monks lighting candles for Buddha, so both festivities were combined and it became what we know today as the Lantern Festival.
This lanterns represent hope, success, and happiness, and once in the past they represented peace. Now they are used to ask for wishes.
On this day, the people eat Yuab Xiao, which are rice dumplings with a filling made of syrup, read beans paste, and black sesame paste. They are boiled and served in hot water, usually in sets of 3 to represent family.
As everyone knows, the pandemic has changed a lot of plans. This year the celebrations will be a little different. Hong Kong cancelled their traditional parade and fireworks show. The travel wave is expected to decrease. The Museum of Chinese in America will host a virtual MOCA Fest where they will offer cooking classes, cultural events, and classes for kids. But I’m sure people will keep the tradition in family and will celebrate in their own way. 新年快乐！ 恭喜发财！ (Xīnnián kuàilè! Gōngxǐ fācái!) [Happy New Year! May you have a prosperous year!]