Fifteen days of celebrations and firecrackers fill the streets of China, and families are reunited after a year apart. Delicious dumplings fill plates in many homes, and eager children joyously take red envelopes of money from their parents. This wonderful time is Chinese New Year (CNY), a celebration of the new lunar year and a wish for good luck in the coming year, and 2020 is the year of the Rat.
While Chinese New Year follows the Lunar calendar and is formally known as the Lunar New Year, the most notable Lunar New Year celebrations are of the CNY variety. Otherwise known as the Spring Festival for its position at the beginning of spring, CNY is the most-celebrated holiday in East Asia and has a diversity of customs and traditions. While these tend to vary greatly between regions, there are several common traditions found throughout the country. Furthermore, the outstanding size of China’s population ensures that a holiday of this magnitude (15 days! Not just 1!) severely impacts the national and global economy. With CNY ending today, it is fitting to reflect on this culturally-rich holiday.
Chinese New Year’s Traditions
China is home to a variety of different people, all with different customs. However, shared traditions are easy to pinpoint, among which are red envelopes, fireworks/lanterns, feasting with family, and cleanliness. While cleaning may not sound like fun, it is an integral part of any Chinese New Year celebration. In anticipation of New Year’s Eve and Day, families all over the country will thoroughly clean and freshen up the house, to sweep away the dirt and bad luck of the past year. This spring cleaning will be the only cleaning done until after the New Year’s though, as sweeping during the holiday is akin to “sweeping away the good luck” and is a taboo for most. Just as you can sweep away the good luck, you can bring in the bad luck. Doing forbidden acts during this time will result in a whole year of bad luck; bad behavior, swearing, hurting others, or having otherwise inauspicious events--death, accidents, etc--will soil the whole year. In accordance with this concept of cleanliness, many (myself included) purchase new clothes for the occasion, often choosing the auspicious color of red.
Red appears everywhere, from clothing to lanterns to fireworks, and even red envelopes. A time of celebration and generosity, CNY is a holiday for gifting friends and family with money placed in red envelopes. The only downside is that the old are expected to give the young, including even slightly younger family members, money. Sometimes coworkers, employees, and the elderly are gifted money as well. Further popularized by digital apps such as WeChat, red envelopes have become one of the most-liked traditions each year.
While America’s New Year celebrations are a sight to be had--NYC alone releases 40,000 fireworks alone--they certainly pale next to CNY celebrations. In order to scare off a terrifying monster from folklore that would attack them, people began setting off fireworks and firecrackers in desperation. The monster called “Nian”, or “Year”, was scared of the loud noises produced, so people eventually began using firecrackers to celebr