Most of the people following the Chinese calendar celebrate the Chinese New Year with much pomp and glory but they often lack the knowledge of the facts that led to its origin.
It is imperative to know the history when celebrating a festival, otherwise much of its relevance remains un-comprehended.
Although many people out there claim to possess a fair idea about the roots to which the beginning of the festival can be traced but they too have their own doubts about the authenticity of the story that they seem to have been fed with since childhood. With some bit of research, Chinese New Year history and tales related to it can be learn about in good details.
There are quite a few tales that goes around claiming to be the true reason for the start of the Chinese New Year. However, not all the stories associated with the beginning of the celebrations for Chinese New Year are found to be true, with a few having no valid logic to back its origin. The one most common premise in all stories is that the festival originated out of fear. It is considered to be a celebration arising out of the defeat over the evil. Some of the legendary tales date back to several centuries ago and they vary in their versions depending from teller to teller. However, all of them seem to revolve around a mythical monster that was believed to kill innocent villagers.
Popular belief behind the Chinese New Year
According to a highly popular version, the mythical monster upon which the story of the origin of Chinese New Year is based was named as Nian. It is also a word, which in Chinese language implies “year”. Villagers feared the lion-like monster because it preyed on them for satiating its hunger. A wise man in that village counseled the villagers to get rid of the evil monster – Nian by making loud noises and hanging crafts with use of red paper cutouts and scrolls on the entrance of their house. For some reason, the monster was believed to fear the color red and hence the advice given by the wise man was to make door-hanging items with red-colored paper.
Villagers followed the advice of the old, wise man and were successful in warding off the evil monster. According to a few stories, Nian was conquered, while some state that villagers scared him off with red color and he returned to the forest, thereby never attacking them again. The date on which the Chinese people recognize the “passing of the Nian” is known as guo nian in Chinese. In English translation, the word is synonymous with celebrating the Chinese New Year.
Date of Its origin and legends
The date when the celebrations of the Chinese New Year first began is unclear. Mostly, the festival is believed to have its beginning from the religious ceremony that took place during the end of the year in Shang Dynasty (1766 BC – 1122 BC). According to a few historical accounts, the celebration of the New Year is believed to have started from as early as Emperor Yao and Shun (2300 BC). “Nian” was synonymopus to the word “year” and the beginning of the year was called “suishou” in the Zhou Dynasty. Often the date of the origin of the celebrations is said to be somewhere between mid winter to early spring.
However, Emperor Wu (157 BC – 87 BC) of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220) declared the first day of the first month as the beginning of the Chinese New Year. Historical accounts still state about the start of celebrations of the New Year from the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220). He was said to supervise the formulation of the solar lunar calendar, which is similar to the Hebrew Caledar. The famous tradition during that time was to crack bamboo as the crackling sound was believed to drive away evil. In the Wei Dynasty (220 – 265) and Jin Dynasty (265 – 420), there was a tradition of lighting up the sky with fireworks as part of the celebrations to usher a brand new year. Shou Sui was also formed during that time. Fireworks lighted with the use of gunpowder were introduced during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279):
Chinese New Year History
Date of Chinese New Year Varies
As the Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, the date on which it is celebrated changes each year. It is unlike the Western Gregorian calendar where the first day of January is celebrated as the New Year because it is follows the solar calendar, which is based on the earth’s orbit around the sun. However, the lunar calendar is based on moon’s orbit around the earth and hence China and most Asian countries follow the lunar calendar. According to this calendar, the New Year always falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Only in case there is an intercalary eleventh or twelfth month in the lead-up to the New Year that the festival day falls on the new moon day after the solstice occurs.
Unofficially, the start of the Chinese New Year period is said to fall on the 23rd day or 24th day of the 12th month of the lunar calendar. The day known popularly as the Spring Festival is said to come to an end with the arrival of the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the First month of the New Year (a full moon day).
The Chinese New Years Day and Winter Solstice are been celebrated as the most important traditional holidays since the Han Dynasty. In history, the whole purpose of keeping track of these two major events was largely to aid agriculture. The arrival of significant days like these gave people an indication as to when to till the soil and sow the seeds. It is often said that the first Chinese calendar was formulated in order to facilitate agricultural production. The festival, irrespective of its historical tales, legendary accounts and records, continues to be celebrated with gusto and a lot of zeal.
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