January 23, 2023
I received several texts yesterday from members of our family who were celebrating the arrival of the Chinese New Year, or the beginning of a new year on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. The New Year marks the end of winter and the beginning of the spring season and arrives on the new moon that appears between January 21st and February 20th. The family festivities included wearing bright red dresses and serving traditional food. Since this is the Year of the Rabbit, one of the plates held two rabbits (made of hard boiled eggs) surrounded by a garnish of cucumbers and tomatoes that had been made by the father-in-law. He is an excellent cook and the entire meal looked delicious.
When I looked online, I found Chinese New Year is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture and has strongly influenced the Lunar New Year celebrations of its 56 ethnic groups. It is also celebrated worldwide in regions and countries that have significant Overseas Chinese or Chinese speaking (Sinophone) populations, especially in Southeast Asia. While “Chinese New Year” remains the official name for the festival in Taiwan, the name “Spring Festival” was adopted by the People’s Republic of China. Some in the Chinese diaspora use the term “Lunar New Year”, while “Chinese New Year” still remains a popular and convenient translation for people who are not of Chinese cultural backgrounds. Along with the Han Chinese in and outside of Greater China, as many as 29 of the 55 ethnic minority groups in China celebrate Chinese New Year, and Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines celebrate it as an official festival.
Chinese New Year is associated with several myths and customs and was traditionally a time to honor deities and ancestors. According to legend, the celebration started with a mythical beast who lives under the sea or in the mountains (the Nian) who would come during the annual Spring Festival and eat villagers, especially children, in the middle of the night. One year, the village agreed to hide from the beast. An old man appeared before the villagers went into hiding and said that he would stay and get revenge on the Nian by hanging red papers and setting off firecrackers. When the villagers returned the next day, nothing was destroyed, and the villagers knew the Nian was afraid of the color red and loud noises. The tradition grew and when New Year approached, the villagers would wear red clothes, hang red lanterns, and red spring scrolls on windows and doors, along with drums and firecrackers, to frighten the Nian away. The Nian never came to the village again.
THOUGHTS: Regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of Chinese New Year vary widely within China, and the evening preceding New Year’s Day is frequently regarded as an occasion for families to gather for an annual reunion dinner. Another tradition is to thoroughly clean your house to sweep away any ill fortune and to make way for incoming good luck. Other activities include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red envelopes. While I learned about Chinese New Year long ago, it was not something I celebrated or thought much about. Having a family connection makes this festival more significant. When we make connections with the world’s diverse people it opens our eyes to new understandings and can bring us closer together. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.