I remember when I first took a day off work for Chinese New Year back in 2012. In my email to my non-Asian bosses, I told them I was celebrating the “Lunar New Year” with my family. However, after sending the email, one of my Southern bosses responded, “Is that a witch thing?” ….. That response TOTALLY CONFUSED THE SHIT OUT OF ME.
Although I took her comment in stride (I mean, what else was I supposed to do? Bitch out my boss?), that’s when I first started realizing that outside of Asian culture, not many people actually know much about or understand Chinese New Year.
So for this post, let’s talk about Chinese New Year. For you non-Asians who have no idea what Chinese New Year is, it’s popularly known by other names as well, such as Lunar New Year, Vietnamese New Year, Spring Festival, or simply…the New Year. It’s typically the biggest Chinese holiday of the year.
Chinese New Year is probably my favorite *sort of* holiday after Christmas and Halloween. This year, it will take place the week of February 5, 2019.
There’s honestly so much to cover for this damn holiday, but since this is the DUMMY edition, I’m just going to focus on differentiating between the lunar/solar calendar, describe what this holiday means to me, share the folk story behind Chinese New Year, and list my top Good Luck Superstitions. Hopefully, this educates some people who don’t have the slightest clue about this holiday.
Lunar Calendar vs. Gregorian Calendar vs. Solar Calendar
According to Sciencing, most people around the world go by Solar calendars, which is focused on the sun. Americans use a type of Solar calendar, called the Gregorian calendar, which provides a date based on the sun’s position as well as the stars behind it. Wow, bet you didn’t know that huh?! Or maybe you did…shrug.
Anyways, Chinese New Year goes by the Lunar calendar, which is focused on the phases of the moon. Because the Lunar calendar follows an approximately 354-day cycle, the actual date of Chinese New Year changes every year. This is similar to Easter and Rosh Hashana, as well as a number of other holidays.
Chinese New Year To Me
From my Chinese-American point of view, Chinese New Year is basically a week filled with family celebrations, Chinatown festivals, wearing new clothes, giving out/receiving lucky envelopes (FILLED WITH HARD CASH, BABY), a bunch of Chinese rituals for the more spiritual/traditional Chinese folks, and carefully abiding some crazy ass superstitions. This is when I call up my grandmas, grandpa, mom, dad, aunties, etc. and wish them all a “Gong Hay Fat Choi,” which is Happy New Year in Cantonese. In my case, I say it in an English accent because let’s be real, my Chinese sucks ass.
Chinese New Year is a time when families come together to celebrate good fortune, to welcome in the new year, to protect your home from evil spirits, and of course, to usher in the new moon. Things that remind me of Chinese New Year include the colors, RED and GOLD, fireworks, dragons, lion dancing, Chinese lanterns, tangerines, the Chinese zodiac, and pictures of my ancestors.
The Folklore Behind Chinese New Year
There are several popular folklores behind this major holiday, but my personal favorite is the one about the monster that eats people, this story below is taken directly from China Highlights.
In ancient times, there was a monster named Nian (年, or Nianshou 年兽) with a long head and sharp horns. It dwelled deep in the sea all year round and only showed up every New Year’s Eve to eat people and livestock in nearby villages.
Therefore, on the day of New Year’s Eve, people would flee to remote mountains to avoid being harmed by the monster. People had lived in fear of this monster until an old man with white hair and a ruddy complexion visited the village.
He refused to hide in the mountains along with the villagers, but successfully scared away the monster by pasting red papers on doors, burning bamboo to make a loud cracking sound (precursor to firecrackers), lighting candles in the houses, and wearing red clothes. When the villagers came back, they were surprised to discover that the village had not been destroyed.
After that, every New Year’s Eve, people did as the old man instructed and the monster Nian never showed up again. This tradition has been continued until the present time and has become an important way to celebrate the arrival of the new year.
I think I personally love this story because it showed unity and the importance of tradition. I don’t know where that wise old man with a “ruddy complexion” came from, but basically, he’s the father of Chinese New Year to me. I also really appreciated the fantasy/sci-fi aspect of this story. Blah.
Anyway, this year will be the year of the PIG!! This usually comes with a bunch of omens and meanings, but honestly, I was born the year of the SNAKE, so I frankly don’t care about a year that ain’t mine cause I’m selfish and lazy lol. However, if you are curious about the piggy folklore, read this article.
Last but not least, since I already touched on what I feel are the most important aspects of Chinese New Year, I wanted to share what’s considered good luck for the new years. Whether you celebrate this holiday or not, it never hurts to learn a bit more about a different culture. According to yours truly, it is good luck to:
1. Wear red. It’s lucky, wear red red red. If you wanna wear a red shirt with red pants and shoes, WHO CARES if you look like a flamin’ hot cheeto, you’ll be walking luck.
2. Wear new shoes, new clothes in general really. Leave the past in the past, and usher in the new year with a fresh set of clothings.
3. Eat lots of tangerines. Have that shit at every corner of your house. My mom always told me that tangerines were good luck food to eat during Chinese New Year–but really it’s just fruit in general.
4. Honor your ancestors. Pray to them for protection and to pay your respects. My family burns traditional papers in a metal bin while praying to a picture of my grandfather and my great grandmother. It’s a very solemn ritual in my opinion, but it’s also extremely spiritual and meaningful.
5. Hang this shit up:
6. Eat a bunch of “lucky foods” such as dumplings, fish, fruits, spring rolls, sweet rice balls, rice cake, noodles, and I forget if mooncakes are part of it, but people give those out anyways.
7. Make some noise! Set off some fireworks. Perhaps do it legally though–cause if you get arrested, I want no part of it!!! The point of fireworks is to scare off the bad spirits. The fireworks should be red.
…..and that’s my limit for this post on Chinese New Year. You’re going to have to wait until next year before I share my BAD LUCK list. For the Chinese folks or the Chinese culture experts reading this, please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
Gong Hay Fat Choi bitches,