The Chinese New Year has a great history. In other
traditions, by this time in the year, most resolutions - made on
December 31 - have been subtly forgotten and placed in a cupboard
marked "maybe next year." However, all hope is not lost,
as there's a second chance to start afresh with the celebration
of Chinese New Year on February 12th.
The Chinese New Year is very similar to the
Western one, swathed in traditions and rituals.
The origin of the Chinese New Year is itself
centuries old - in fact, too old to actually be
traced. It is popularly recognised as the Spring
Festival and celebrations last 15 days.
Preparations tend to begin a month from the date
of the Chinese New Year (similar to a Western
Christmas), when people start buying presents,
decoration materials, food and clothing. A huge
clean-up gets underway days before the New Year,
when Chinese houses are cleaned from top to
bottom, to sweep away any traces of bad luck, and
doors and windowpanes are given a new coat of
paint, usually red. The doors and windows are
then decorated with paper cuts and couplets with
themes such as happiness, wealth and longevity
printed on them.
The eve of the New Year is perhaps the most
exciting part of the event, as anticipation
creeps in. Here, traditions and rituals are very
carefully observed in everything from food to
clothing. Dinner is usually a feast of seafood
and dumplings, signifying different good wishes.
Delicacies include prawns, for liveliness and
happiness, dried oysters (or ho xi), for all
things good, raw fish salad or yu sheng to bring
good luck and prosperity, Fai-hai (Angel Hair),
an edible hair-like seaweed to bring prosperity,
and dumplings boiled in water (Jiaozi) signifying
a long-lost good wish for a family. It's usual to
wear something red as this colour is meant to
ward off evil spirits - but black and white are
out, as these are associated with mourning. After
dinner, the family sit up for the night playing
cards, board games or watching TV programmes
dedicated to the occasion. At midnight, the sky
is lit up by fireworks.
On the day itself, an ancient custom called Hong
Bao, meaning Red Packet, takes place. This
involves married couples giving children and
unmarried adults money in red envelopes. Then the
family begins to say greetings from door to door,
first to their relatives and then their
neighbours. Like the Western saying "let
bygones be bygones," at Chinese New Year,
grudges are very easily cast aside.
The end of the New Year is marked by the Festival
of Lanterns, which is a celebration with singing,
dancing and lantern shows.
Although celebrations of the Chinese New Year
vary, the underlying message is one of peace and
happiness for family members and friends.