By: Khaalid Naik
Imagine 15 days of bombasting celebrations, fervor & gaiety in the air, and appetizing dishes to relish. That’s Lunar New Year for you!
The word lunar must ring a bell. The significance of the moon goes way beyond just its beauty, especially in Chinese culture. A whole festival is surmounted around it. The Lunar New Year is based on the moon’s phases, and it usually falls between the 20th of January to 20th of February.
The festivities begin on the first new moon and the first full moon of the lunar calendar. It is one of the mainstream events in the Chinese calendar, commonly known as the ‘Spring Festival’ and often known as ‘Chinese New Year.’ Lunar New Year holds great importance in many parts of South Asia besides China. It is China’s Chunjie, Vietnam’s Tet, Koria’s Seollal, and Tibet’s Losar. Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Mongolia are a few other countries that observe and celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Lunar New Year: The Origin
The Lunar New Year owes its origin to three legendary stories that will give an insight into the details of the 15-day celebrations.
The famous Chinese New Year quote ‘guo nian’ translates into ‘celebrate the new year’ or ‘overcome Nian.’ Nian was a monster—a mythical creature—in ancient times that used to destroy crops and livestock and even go to the lengths of eating humans on new year’s eve. To save themselves from the destruction, people used to keep food at their steps for Nian.
Red envelopes have an important place in the Chinese New Year’s celebration, and the credit goes to another demonic creature called ‘SUI’ who used to scare children when they were asleep. These red envelopes are known as Yasuiqian (suppressing sui money). The married and older members of the family gift these to the single children as this money is considered protection and luck from fairies. Loads of cash and protection from SUI- sound like a win-win for the kids.
The spring couplets are a part of the decoration not just for aesthetic reasons but also because of traditional significance. Spring couplets go back at least a thousand years ago, but their story goes beyond that. In Chinese culture, it is believed that peach wood entails the spirit of 5 fairies that are known to scare away evil. In addition, there is a ghost world in which a peach tree stretches over 1,500 km over a mountain. Two guards in the northeast region of the tree guarding the Chinese ancestors against the ghost world.
The idea derived from there that hanging the inscription of the name of two guards with come peachwood would keep the evil away. With time, guards’ names were inscribed on the peachwood itself. Eventually, peachwood was replaced by red paper, which symbolizes luck and happiness—since then, pasting the spring couplets on the door has been a custom to welcome the Lunar New Year.
Lunar New Year: Traditions & Customs
The legends of the Lunar New Year have set the theme straight for all the traditions & customs. They are there to start the new year positively with happiness, luck, and protection from evil.
It begins with intense cleaning of the house to sweep away bad luck and decorating it with red things to bring bliss, prosperity, and alacrity.
It is followed by honoring the dead and paying homage to the ancestors by offering the sacrifices first to their graves and then serving at the dinner table. Keeping an extra glass of water on the table on the eve’s dinner is another way to acknowledge them.
Lunar New Year’s eve is all about celebrating family, and big dinners are hosted for the family reunion. Different generations sit across the table, sharing the meal and cherishing each other.
Firecrackers are given utmost importance in the celebrations since it is believed that loud sound & lighting scares away the monster Nian. Therefore, these festivities end with exchanging red envelopes and bursting firecrackers.
The celebratory atmosphere and enchanting festivities can sway away anyone. Yashi, a student at Shandong University, agrees as she states, “I never knew how big of an event Lunar New Year is until now. The decorations, the food, the music, the art, everything is at its finest display. I am enjoying and relishing every moment as I will be celebrating Lunar New Year for the first time now.”