The Chinese New Year is upon us again and this time, it is to say goodbye to the Year of the Rat and hello to the mighty Ox.
So what is Chinese New Year?
The Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is one of the most important festivals among the Asian ethnic group around the world. Celebrated in various different ways by Koreans, Chinese and South East Asians, the Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon which occurs 15 days later.
According to legend, the first Chinese New Year occured when a group of villagers were being terrorized by a mythical monster called the Nian. At one time, they discovered that the Nian was afraid of the colour red and the sound of firecrackers. Hence the practice of decking oneself and putting up household decorative items entirely in red, and burning firecrackers. Unfortunately in some countries like Malaysia and Singapore, firecrackers have been banned so people improvised by playing loud music on the eve and first day of Chinese New Year.
What happens when?
This year, the Chinese New Year will start on 26 January
Leading up to the Chinese New Year
In the days leading up to the first two days of Chinese New Year – the most significant day among Malaysian Chinese – all Chinese households will be busy with spring cleaning and preparing traditional goodies for the reunion dinner that is held on Chinese New Year eve. Homes are decorated with lanterns, lights, paper couplets in red (bright and happy future) & gold (to signify prosperity and wealth) and food stocks are increased with a healthy supply of mandarin oranges known as kam (gold), cookies (represents a sweet year), snacks, canned fruits, dried goods like shitake mushrooms, savoury meat pieces (bak kwa) and so forth.
One best and common example is the red diamond-shaped posters with the character ? (pinyin: fú), or “auspiciousness” which are displayed around the house and on doors. This sign is usually seen hanging upside down, since the Chinese word ? (pinyin: d?o), or “upside down”, sounds similar as ? (pinyin: dào), or “arrive”. Therefore, it symbolizes the arrival of luck, happiness, and prosperity.
Red packets filled with money are also on the list of preparations, if you’re married, that is (children and unmarried adults are the recipients of these goodies, which are supposed to bring in luck and good fortune). New clothes are bought in advance and some even go to the extend of getting a haircut in the month leading up to this festive occasion.
Tradition dictates that families must always come together for a reunion meal on the Chinese New Year eve. This is not a time for sparing quantities of food – fish (abundance/surplus), prawns (happiness) and other dishes made from expensive or meaningful ingredients (scallops, abalone, etc) are almost always on the menu. The rice cooker must never be empty, otherwise it would mean that the family would have a hard time filling their ricebowl throughout the year. Brooms, garbage and all other chores must be completed on this day – no one does their laundry, dusting or sweeping on the first two days of Chinese New Year because it would mean that one is sweeping their luck away and/or will be working in such manner throughout the year.
After dinner, families usually gather together and spend time either playing cards or watching movies – no one sleeps early on the eve. There is a vigil – some people believe that keeping a vigil helps to increase the longevity of parents – and all the lights in the house are turned on. At the stroke of midnight, the doors and windows are opened to allow the old year to leave and to welcome in a new year (and ultimately a fresh start).
On the first day of Chinese New Year
People start the day with a fresh pair of clothes and a nice bath, minus washing one’s hair as it means one will wash away their luck. Red or any other bright colours like yellow or gold is preferred and it is believed that one’s attitude will reflect on what will happen in the coming months. So fights, crying and anything “bad” is forbidden. No foul language either! Death and dying are never mentioned.
No one cooks on this day as it is believed to bring bad luck so most of the time, people eat leftovers – hence the reason for the massive amount of food at the reunion dinner the night before! Buddhists will refrain from eating meat on this day, choosing to consume the traditional lo hon chai or Buddha’s Delight.
All debts must be paid, but don’t go asking for them because it would mean that one is set to ask for money all year long. Visiting folks bring with them oranges, and sweet goodies, and will always walk away with some thing in exchange – to visit one and/or return empty-handed is to be rude and to owe that person in question. Taboos for gifts (and on your shopping list) include the following:
Clocks (escorting someone to the grave), green hats (mean infidelity), shoes (sounds like a sigh), pears (sounds like separation), handkerchiefs (used in funerals) umbrellas (sounds like closing), scissors, knives or sharp bladed objects (symbolizes cutting ties).
More importantly, the first day is when families of male relatives visit the oldest and most senior members like their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.
On the second day of Chinese New Year
This is the day when married daughters visit their birth parents. During olden times, married daughters were hardly allowed to visit their birth parents on the pretext that once a woman is married, she belongs to her husband’s family and could not simply return home as and when she liked. To do so would bring disgrace to her birth family. The 2nd day of Chinese New Year was one of the few days for a married woman to visit her birth parents, bearing gifts and goodies.
So what do I do when I see a Chinese on Monday and the next 15 days after Monday?
Whatever you do, refrain for saying Happy Chinese New Year (or worse, Happy New Year!) because it means absolutely nothing!!!! You would be better off with the following:
Xin Nian Kua Lee (X?nnián kuàilè): Happy New Year!
Gong Xi Fa Cai (G?ngx? f?cái): Congratulations and be prosperous!
Sui Sui Ping An (Suìsuì píng’?n): Everlasting peace year after year!
Nin Nin You Yu (Niánnián y?uyú): Wishing you surpluses and bountiful harvests every year!
Sam Seung Sih Sheng: May you accomplish all you wish for!
Loong Mah Ching Sahn: Wishing you vitality and health!
Man Sih Yuet Yi: May all things go according to your wishes!
So yes, wishing you a prosperous and wealthy Year of the Ox!