History Chinese New Year

A Centuries Old Story
Crucial to Your Festivities

statue of the beast Nien

History Chinese New Year: words that take on significance once you realize that to have a successful Chinese New Year's party you must know the history of this holiday. Chinese New Year started centuries ago, and its beginnings can be found in the legend centered around the beast Nien or Nian.

Nien appeared at the end of each year and was said to live under the sea or in the mountains. The beast would attack and eat the livestock, crops, and people (especially children) of the village on the first day of the year. In hopes of appeasing the beast, the villagers put food outside their doors. The thinking was that if the beast ate the food, it would not eat their children.

Additionally, to scare Nien away the villagers struck at its weaknesses: loud noise, bright lights, and the color red. They discovered that if they dressed their children in red, hung red lanterns, and outlined their doors in red, Nien was too scared to enter. As a result, over time red has come to mean good fortune and happiness.

The lighting of firecrackers, the loudest of all Chinese New Year activities, was specifically to scare Nien away. The immense noise was a huge deterrent to the beast. Banging pots and yelling were said to work just as well.

And of course, both the bright lights and color red come into play with hanging red lanterns for the Chinese New Year. Today, lanterns are hung not just to keep Nien away, but to keep all monsters and evil spirits at bay. An added bonus is gaining the favor of the gods.

The Lunar Calendar

In addition to its rich history Chinese New Year has the interesting aspect of following the lunar calendar. This calendar is based not on the Earth's orbit around the sun, but the moon's orbit around the Earth. Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice, and the solstice occurs on either December 21 or 22.

The 15 Days of Chinese New Year

Per its history Chinese New Year is celebrated for 15 nights. Each day has different Chinese New Year activities associated with it.

Chinese New Years Eve: Celebrated with a family dinner of fish and dumplings, followed by prayer, fireworks, and even the Western tradition of a countdown to midnight. Many people stay up all night to help ensure their parents live a long life.

hong bao, red envelopes containing money

Day 1: The welcoming of the gods of heaven and Earth. Celebrations start with lion dance parades filling the streets, fireworks, and abstaining from eating meat. Every Chinese New Year parade ends with a dragon dance. Older family members are honored, and younger members are given hong bao, red envelopes with money in them.

Day 2: The official first day, day 2 is a day of visiting friends and family. It's a time of prayer in the name of your ancestors, and dogs are particularly honored on this day.

Days 3 & 4: It's considered bad luck to socialize or visit on these days. This is the time for having fortunes told, or for sons-in-law to honor their in-laws.

group of firecrackers in red wrappers

Day 5: Known as Jie Cai Ceng. This is the day to welcome the Gods of Wealth and Prosperity. Often businesses set off firecrackers to bring them prosperity and good fortune, while many families stay home to welcome the gods into their homes. Throughout history Chinese New Year dumplings have been consumed on this day, as they are round like money.

Day 6: All businesses reopen (many are closed to observe a public holiday for the first 5 days of Chinese New Year). More firecrackers are set off to keep evil spirits away from the newly opened businesses.

Day 7: Everyone is considered one day older on the 7th day. Meat is not eaten, although fish is eaten for success. Noodles are eaten for longevity, and farmers display their produce. A soup is made out of these vegetables and consumed in celebration.

Day 8: A day of celebration and family dinner. At midnight there is a prayer to the God of Heaven.

Day 9: Offerings of sugar cane, lighting of incense, and prayer to the Jade Emperor occur.

Days 10-12: Friends and family enjoy elaborate dinners together.

Day 13: Friends and family enjoy dinner together again. But this night they consume a simple meal of rice congee and mustard greens to cleanse the system after so many nights of rich food.

red hanging lanterns for chinese new year

Day 14: Preparation for the Lantern Festival takes place today.

Day 15: As in history Chinese New Year's Yuan Xiao Jie (Festival of Lanterns) is marked by everyone carrying lanterns, and with parades and parties. More dancing dragon parades take place, for the dragon represents prosperity, good luck, and good fortune. The lanterns remain lit all night to give thanks for the return of daylight as the days start to get longer after the winter solstice. Day 15 is a day of eating rice balls and solving puzzles that are written on the lanterns. The Festival of the Lanterns closes the celebration with still more fireworks on the night of the full moon.

colorful dragon head for dragon parade

So, as you participate in this meaningful stretch of festivities, say "Gung Hay Fat Choy" to all you encounter to express your Chinese New Year wishes. The words literally mean "congratulations on prospering in money." Not a bad thought this holiday season. Not a bad thought at all.

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