Monday, January 9, 2012

Chinese New Year Celebration

The origin of Chinese New Year backdates to centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and traditions. Chinese New Year marks the end of the winter season and it is celebrated in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations. The festival begins on the first day of the first month in the traditional Chinese calendar and ends with Chap Goh Mei which is on the 15th day of the first month.

Families will pour out their money to buy presents, decoration, material, food, and clothing. It is also a tradition that every family thoroughly cleans the house. It is believed the cleaning sweeps away the bad luck of the preceding year and makes their homes ready for good luck...welcoming for a better new year.  Homes are often decorated with paper cut-outs of Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets. Windows and doors will be decorated with red colour paper-cuts with popular themes of "good fortune", "happiness", "wealth", and "longevity". People will also put up other red decorations such as the word "Fu" (luck) on the wall or the main door. Some may like to place it upside down, reason being..."upside down" in Chinese shares the same sound with "arriving". So it in a way, signifies the arriving of a lucky year.

Purchasing new clothing, shoes and receiving a hair-cut also symbolize a fresh start and many households where Buddhism or Taoism is prevalent, home altars and statues are cleaned thoroughly, and altars that were adorned with decorations from the previous year are taken down and burned a week before the new year starts, to be replaced with new decorations.

The biggest and most important event of any Chinese New Year's Eve is the reunion dinner. On the eve, family members from far away will come home and gather together for this important dinner with the good intentions to reconcile, forget all grudges and sincerely wish peace and happiness to each other. Most families would prepare a feast for the night. The food dishes will also have names that signify good fortune or good life. For example, fish in Chinese "Yu" shares the same sound with the word 'extra' or 'leftover'. There is a New Year phrase that says "Nian Nian You Yu" which means "there is some (fish) leftover from the previous year, every year". Therefore the lucky fish is a lucky dish, and paintings of fish are also loved by many. Another common lucky dish is "Fatt Choy Hao Shi" which means "prosperity and good fortune". "Fatt Choy" is a type of fungi that looks a lot like shiny black hair and its Chinese name sounds just like "prosperity" in Chinese whilst "Hao Shi" is preserved oyster, which sounds like "good things". 

After dinner, some families will go to local temples hours before the new year begins to pray for a prosperous new year by lighting the first incense of the year. Of course, Chinese who originated from different area might have different New Year tradition and practices. For instance, in Hong Kong, people believe that the first person who puts a joss stick into the temple's offering altar will be having good luck for the rest of the year. You can imagine the crowd outside the temple at the dawn of the Lunar New Year. Families will then end the night with firecrackers. Traditionally, the Chinese will stay up all night from the eve till the morning of Lunar New Year. It is believed that by doing so, they could extend their parents' living years. Therefore it is quite common to see the Chinese staying up talking, drinking tea, or even playing Mahjong all night long, on the New Year's Eve.

On the first day of Chinese New Year, children will greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year and receive money in red paper envelopes which is known as angpow. It is given to children by their parents for good luck and it is only given by those who are married, to those who are younger. It is also given to children who comes to visit the family or to the younger friends and relatives whom they visit. Chinese are very particular about longevity of life, and they believe that by doing so, our ageing process can be decelerated. Honestly, a lot of younger Chinese nowadays, are not aware of this. The money contained in the packet has over shone the real meaning of the gesture.

Naturally, there are taboos that we have to abide during the festive season. Any sharp, pointy objects are not to be visible and no sweeping is allowed during the first few days of the New Year. Even brooms and dust pans have to be hidden away so that the newly arrived good luck cannot be swept away. Breaking anything is also a taboo. Should it unfortunately happen, we will have to quickly say something nice to accompany it, such as "Sui Sui Ping An" which means "out of harm's way, all year round". "Sui" means age or year, which sounds the same as "shattered". Apart from that, any vocabulary related to unfortunate event is a big no-no! 

The first day is also for the welcoming of the deities of the heavens and earth, officially beginning at midnight. Many Chinese, especially Buddhists choose to eat only vegetarian meal throughout the first day of the Lunar New Year. This is mainly for the belief of cleansing, for good deeds and ensuring longevity. Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is to visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended families, usually their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Some families may invite a lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Chinese New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises. Lion Dance and Dragon dance are believed to have the effect of ridding evils and bad luck, and to bring harvesting rain in the coming year. Employers also give bonuses through red envelopes to employees for good luck and wealth. 

The 15th day of Chinese New Year which is also being referred to as Chap Goh Mei or Chinese Valentine's Day is celebrated with prayers and offerings to mark the end of the Chinese New Year. Houses are again brightly decorated with lights for the last day of the celebration. Tangerines or Mandarin oranges toss is a traditional culture as a means for a single lady to find for her life partner. On this day, many single ladies will gather at the riverside upstream to toss mandarin oranges into the river with the hope that the right single men who await downstream will pick up the oranges. It is believed that this act will bring the person to his/her right match. So it's no surprise the mandarin oranges will sell really well on that day! After this day, everything will be back to normal....