The Celebrations of Chinese New Year
Also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is a celebration deeply rooted in symbolism and tradition. Its origins are centuries old, and the festival we know today is inspired by the ancient legend of a mythical monster named Nian. At the end of each year, Nian would come to Chinese villages and prey upon the people that lived there- until they discovered that Nian was afraid of loud noises and the colour red. Today, red lanterns, cutouts and couplets are an essential ingredient of Chinese New Year, as are firecrackers- both of which are symbolic of warding away evil spirits and misfortune. The dates of the Chinese New Year change annually and are based upon the lunisolar Chinese calendar. Each New Year has its own zodiac animal, so that in 2015, Chinese New Year falls on February 19th and heralds the incoming Year of the Goat. The festival lasts from New Year’s Eve until the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, when the Lantern Festival provides a fittingly spectacular finale to the celebrations.
Traditionally a time for honoring ancestors and deities, Chinese New Year is famous for its atmosphere of infectious excitement. Whilst specific customs may differ from region to region, certain hallmarks of the festival remain unchanged. Dragon and lion dances are popular during Chinese New Year, their loud music and bright colours thought to deter any lurking malignant spirits; whilst buildings are adorned with red decorations that follow traditional themes like good fortune, wealth and happiness. On the first day of the celebration, red envelopes containing money are given as a blessing to younger members of the family, the sum of which must be even to avoid bad luck. Symbolism is a vital part of Chinese New Year, and almost every aspect of the festival has a deep significance. Chinese New Year cuisine is no exception, and common dishes include fish, believed to signify a surplus of luck; and Chinese dumplings, indicative of a prosperous new beginning.
The possibilities for celebrating Chinese New Year are endless. The sheer scale of China’s big cities exacerbates the festival’s intoxicating vibe, and in Beijing, traditional temple fairs include delicious food, shadow puppetry, and lion dancing. In Shanghai, exquisite temple rituals contrast with more modern celebrations, like the live music performances held throughout the city for the duration of the festival. Visitors to China should also consider heading south to fertile Guangzhou, where flower fairs are held to mark the Spring Festival; or north to wintry Harbin, where subzero temperatures facilitate the world-famous International Ice And Snow Sculpture Festival around the time of Chinese New Year. China is by no means the only nation to mark this holiday, with major celebrations also taking place in countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Each of these nations have their own interpretation of the festivities- from horse racing on the third day of the festival in Hong Kong, to Singapore’s famous Chingay Street Parade.
Wherever you choose to celebrate, the experience of doing so is unforgettable. Chinese New Year offers the rare opportunity not only to witness the traditions of another culture; but to immerse yourself in them completely.
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