Today is Chinese New Year, which is a big celebration for my family. We have lived in the UK since I was two years old but always celebrated our Chinese heritage, which I’m so pleased about. Now I have a family, I am hoping I can pass on the traditions too. As the New Year approached, I decided to chat to my Mum a little more about the history behind it and thought I’d share what she told me as much of it I hadn’t known before.
Chinese New Year is a celebration at the start of Spring. China is such an agricultural country, and it is traditionally the start of the year when the crops start to grow and the weather is getting better. As a lot of people know, the Chinese have a lunar calendar which follows the movement of the moon. It does not have 31 days but 29 days each month (30 days if it is a leap year). Chinese believe that we all belong to one animal so the zodiac is made up of 12 animals and each year is aligned to one of the 12 animals.
Preparations for New Year
As my Mum tells me, usually the house is fully spring cleaned to prepare for Chinese New Year celebrations. I’m not sure where I got my messy gene from as I hardly ever spring clean! The tradition tells us that one week before Chinese New Year, the God of the Kitchen is supposed to report the the God of the Heavens that each house is a clean place to live…so there’s the incentive! Aside from this, there is also a lot of traditional food to make, presents to wrap for all the family, as there is always lots of family coming to stay.
Chinese New Year is a 15 day celebration, it ends on the 15th day of the Chinese year and the Lantern Festival marks the end of the celebrations. I remember this festival vividly as we would always attend one in our home town. In China, traditional businesses such as factories close for two weeks and everyone takes a holiday during this time and it is a time to spend with family.
Unusually, Chinese New Year Eve is the big celebration. The houses are often full of flowers, as they are a symbol for wealth and prosperity for the year ahead. There would also be fireworks to celebrate much like our New Year’s Eve celebration! The most important tradition though is to have new outfit and new shoes for the occasion. My sister and I would always dress in a ‘cheong-sam’ (a traditional Chinese dress made of silk) and my Mum explains that usually you would have your hair cut too.
I just had to ask my Mum about superstitions as we have never talked about it before but I always wondered if there are any surrounding Chinese New Year. She tells me that the first two days of the celebration are typically for visiting your family. But on the third day, the superstition is that if you are with family, you will end up arguing! Well, that’s possibly inevitable after two solid days together… So on that day, everyone goes to the temple to get their fortunes read. Then on the sixth day of the festival, the shops start to open again and life starts to resume as normal again.
One important thing that I’m not sure is a superstition or just an amazing tradition, is to give a red envelope with money in as a present. This is something that’s been with me my whole life: red is good luck and this symbolising good fortune for the year ahead. In fact, when I was a bridesmaid at my sister’s wedding, I wore a red dress for good luck, to keep to that tradition.
Did you celebrate Chinese New Year where you are?