Today marks the start of #ChineseNewYear, also known as the #LunarNewYear, a 16-day celebration that takes place in China and among Chinese communities around the world. It’s the most important and festive holiday in China and is believed to date back 3,500 years ago to the Shang Dynasty.
Chinese New Year is an opportunity to honor ancestors and household and heavenly deities. One of the more popular legends explaining the origins of Chinese New Year claims that thousands of years ago, a figure named Nian (“Year”) would attack villagers at the beginning of each new year. Nian was known to be startled by loud noises, bright lights, and the color red, and therefore, celebrations evolved to include fireworks, red clothes, and red decorations to keep Nian at bay.
In addition to gathering with family to feast on traditional New Year’s dishes (spring rolls, dumplings, noodles, and fish), other traditions during Chinese New Year include cleaning one’s home thoroughly to ward off “huiqi” or inauspicious breaths away from the home. Families also celebrate by giving red envelopes filled with money, known as “lucky money” or “New Year’s money.” A gift of “lucky money” is meant to pass along a year of good fortune.
Because of its relation to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, each year is marked by the characteristics of one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals, which include, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. This year is the year of the tiger.
Looking for ways to celebrate Lunar New Year with children in your care, family or friends? Check out ChineseNewYear.net, which is packed with recommendations for food, drinks, decorations, along with lots of enlightening history and information about the holiday. In Massachusetts, the Pau Arts Center is also holding online activities to celebrate the Lunar New Year. In Connecticut, the Yale-China program is holding a number of New Year’s activities, many of which are available online.
To all those celebrating, we wish you a Happy Chinese New Year! Enjoy!