Chinese New Year is one of the most predominantly important festivals in the lives of the Chinese people, the tradition dating back to almost 2000 years.
It is a 15 day long celebration involving traditions, customs, and superstitions, bonding and coming of the relatives from all over to celebrate this auspicious occasion. People start getting ready for the impending celebration for the fortnight from the New Year’s Eve only, which is called Chi Xi. There are a couple of customs being practiced in some parts while the other part rejoices in a different custom; but that is the beauty and essence of this celebration and this vast country.
Let us now go through each of the 15 days and what they entail –
- Day One
The first day is but of course the beginning of the 15 daylong celebrations. The first day is also known as Yuan Dan. The morning will see the setting off of firecrackers to drive out the evils; before the family sets off to visit the older members of the extended family. These visits are meant to strengthen the family bonding. Bai Nian or New Years call or wishing Happy New Year to everyone started mostly during the Han Dynasty. The guests are welcomed with various sweet treats and tea, signifying the wish that may the New Year be sweet.
The sweets are then served in an octagonal tray which again symbolises togetherness. The sweets can be arranged in an order of eight, as eight signifies luck or in nine as nine symbolizes wealth, family unity and good fortune. The visitors will also carry mandarin oranges, tangerine etc as gifts, thereby symbolizing wealth and good fortune. Abstaining from Non- Vegetarian fare is considered to increase longevity and it cleanses out the body; also conforms to a Buddhist tradition of not killing anything on the first day of the celebration. Thus a traditional vegetarian Buddhist dish called Jai or Buddha’s Delight is prepared using eighteen different ingredients as the number eighteen is believed to signify wealth and prosperity.
- Day Two
The second day of the Chinese New Year is also known as Kai Nian in Chinese as everyone offers a sacrifice to the God of Fortune as Tsai Shen, the God of Wealth is said to leave for heaven on this day. They keep the hope that the God of Fortune will grant them great fortune in the upcoming New Year. The main five sacrifices offered to the Gods by the big businesses are – whole pigs, lamb, ducks, cock and a live red carp. This day is also known as the day of welcoming the son-in-laws; as the married daughters come to visit their parental home with their husbands on this day. Since this day is characterized by the birthday of dogs, the pets and stray dogs at the street are fed and taken care of.
- Day Three
On this day, people generally do not go out and stays at home as it is believed that it is a day of Chi Kou Ri, or the day of red mouth, and is generally accepted as a day not conducive for socializing or visiting relatives and friends. The third day is considered to be ominous and thus people are discouraged to do, what otherwise would be considered absolutely normal things. However with the gradual progression of time, people have stopped reacting to the list of do not’s, and treat this day more as a chance to reconnect with close family members.
- Day Four
The fourth day is known as Yang Ri and is generally considered to be a fairly good day, as goat is considered to be an auspicious symbol in the Chinese culture. On this day families should clean and sweep their house and throw the rubbish all out, thereby symbolically throwing away all ill luck and poverty. They should burn incense, light candles and prepare fruits, to welcome the Gods. This is the last day when the shops and establishments remain closed.
- Day Five
The fifth day is commonly known as PO Wu. According to mythology, it is the day when the God of Fortune was born, thus people all over celebrates the day reverentially as his birthday. Firecrackers are lit, in the hope to attract the God of Fortune’s attention. In some parts of China, especially Northern China, people eat dumplings, as this resemble the gold ingots and seems fitting to celebrate the birthday of God of Fortune.
- Day Six
The sixth day is known as the Ma Ri, and is associated with sending away the ghost of poverty. Legend has it, that the Ghost of Poverty was the son of Emperor Zhuan Xu, but would always wear torn and tattered clothes and eat very humble porridges. Even if he got new gifts, he would wait for them to get threadbare and tattered. Thus people throw away their old and tattered clothes in order to drive away the ghost of poverty, and the roads are lit to show him the way out. People also clean their washrooms in order to let the God of sanitation be happy when he checks up on them.
- Day Seven
The seventh day is known as the “day of Humans” because according to legends the Goddess, Nv Wa, who is the creator of this world and the human beings, created Humans on this day with yellow clay. Thus this day is also known as Ren Ri, the day of humans. To honor the creation of human beings and the Goddess, either people will eat vegetarian dishes or a salad consisting of raw fish and vegetable called Yusheng, which in turn is symbolic for abundance vigor and prosperity. People in some regions consume Qi Bao Geng, a thick soup consisting of seven different vegetables. In most of the places in China people will have noodles on this day as it symbolizes longevity. In certain rural areas of the Shandong, people also send away the fire disasters, so that fire does not harm them in any way in the next year.
- Day Eight
The eighth day is considered to be the birthday of Millet, a favorite crop. Folklore has it that if the day dawns sunny bright and clear, then the year can be a harvest year; but if it is windy and grey, then the year will suffer from poor harvest. Though in this modern day, millet is no longer a staple food in China, the significance and importance of this day can be ascertained with the importance ascribed to agriculture and cherish food. Thus people generally take their children to agricultural lands on this day, so that they learn the value of food and understand the toil connected to growing food. In certain areas captive animals are also set free on this day.
- Day Nine
Day nine is considered to be birthday of the Jade Emperor, also known as Yù Huáng or Yù Dì, who is the supreme deity according to Taoism. According to Taoist legends, heaven and earth will rejoice and there will be celebration in the Taoist temples. The Jade Emperor according to legends was born several millenniums ago to the King of Pure Felicity Kingdom of the Lofty Heavenly Majestic Lights and the Empress of Precious Moonlight. People usually shower and then offers sacrifice of a cock on this day to show respect to the Jade Emperor. In some rural areas people also sing lucky songs the birthday of the Jade Emperor.
- Day Ten
The tenth day is considered to be the birthday of the God of Stone. This day is known as the Shi Bu Dong, literally meaning not move any stone as it is considered inauspicious to move stone on this day. People burning incense and offer pancakes to the God of Stone on this day. According to legends found in the south of the Yangtze River, people marry of the mouse on this day as they cause extreme harm. New Year picture depicting the marriage of the mouse is quite popular among the rural people of China.
- Day Eleven
The eleventh day of the Chinese New Year celebration is the interesting fathers-in-law to entertain the sons-in –law day! Interesting concept and tradition where the father-in –laws entertain their son-in-law with the leftover food from the ninth day, when the Jade Emperor’s birthday had been celebrated. This is also the day to welcome Zi Gu, who was as legends go; the concubine of a rich man, who killed her in her bathroom. The heavenly bodies took compassion in her and made her the goddess of the toilet. Women oppressed in a feudal society worship her as she stands for all weak females. In Guangxi Province, the Pao Long Jie, or the dragon dance festival is held.
- Day Twelve
This is the day when people start preparing for the important lantern festival. Till now people have had all greasy and rich food, so people give their digestive system some rest. Because of the upcoming Lantern Festival, people from this day onwards start preparing the lantern shacks. In Hebei province it is the traditional custom of making fire with cypress branches as they are believed to be potent in driving away the evil spirits.
- Day Thirteen
The thirteenth day is a day of contrast for the northern and southern part of China. In the northern part, a gentleman called Mt Yang’s first son died on this day and the rest 12 sons died in the ensuing year. Thus it is considered to be an inauspicious day and nothing sacred or important is held on this day. However, contrarily in the southern part of China, people go to the temples to appreciate the lanterns and it is an atmosphere of happiness that prevails as it is the approach to the Lantern Festival.
- Day Fourteen
This is the prelude to the much awaited final day of the fifteen day long festival. Lantern Fairs open for people to select their lanterns for the next day. Performers start practicing for the upcoming dragon dance and lion dance. Families start preparing and readying the lantern, some candles and also some rice glue balls for the big day. In the Zhejiang province people prepare a soup called the Liang Yan Tang. They also celebrate this day as the Chinese New Year Lantern festival as the Han people rose and attained victory against the oppressive Mongolians on this day. Thus they commemorate their victory on this day.
- Day Fifteen
This is the big day of the Lantern Festival. Festivities reach the pinnacle on this day. Dragon and Lion dances are paraded on the streets with the streets being crowded to watch these colorful performances. In the evening people reunite for another joyous reunion dinner. It is the first night of the full moon and traditional dinner consisting of yuanxiao is prepared. It is a special sweet dumpling made of glutinous rice flour and stuffed with sugar made out in the shape of full moon. This sweet symbolizes reunion. Another round dumpling in soup is also prepared called the Yuanxiao. In the evening after visiting the temple, people light the various colorful lanterns. In some parts of China, people fly the kongming lantern, where their precious wishes are written. According to one of the legends associated with the lantern festival, Tian Guan was the Taoist God responsible for good fortune and the Ruler of Heaven. He was born on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, thus being a connoisseur for entertainment, followers till day prepares various type of entertainment where people pray for their good fortune. This festival is all about driving the evil spirits away and ushering in the benevolent spirits and also having a reunion between all the family members and cultivating the positivity in all relationships.
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