Chinese New Year


Chinese New Year (农历新年), also known as the Spring Festival (春节), is the most significant festival for ethnic Chinese around the world. The date of the new year is determined by the lunar/solar calendar rather than the Western (Gregorian) calendar. Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the new year (正月) and ends on the full moon 15 days later. Singapore's Chinatown is a popular destination during this period.


Kitchen God's Day


Traditionally the Spring Festival actually begins its course a week (7 days) before the Chinese New Year, with the practice of offering a sacrifice to the Kitchen God, known in China as either Zaowang or Zao Jun (灶君). It is said that the Kitchen God, located near the kitchen stove, is in control of a family's fortunes and misfortunes. It is believed that the Kitchen God will return to heaven the next day (the 23rd of the last month (12th month) from Chinese lunar calendar) and report on the deeds of each family during the previous year to the Jade Emperor. On the night of the Kitchen God’s departure, thanking him for his presence during the previous year by giving him a farewell offering of sticky cake (nian gao, 年糕, made of glutinous rice) and sweets. These offerings are to please the Kitchen God so that he will only talk about the good deeds of a family. A good report will bring luck; a negative one, misfortune. People also hope that the sticky cake will seal the Kitchen God's mouth so that he will tell no tales. At the end of the ceremony the old portrait of the Kitchen God is burnt and a new one is put up. This tradition is no longer popular in cities now.


Lucky Character

Because it is the Spring Festival, we have a "spring" (春) sign, which hangs on the wall inside and outside on the front door to New Year's Day. "Spring" also means "leftovers or remains". We expect to have an abundant supply of food, so that the leftovers can also be for next year. In addition to sign, another common word, 福, which means "good luck" or "fortune" can be hung on the door. These two signs are hung upside down because "upside down" (倒) sounds the same as 到, which means "to arrive". So we hang them both upside down to welcome "spring" and "good luck" to arrive into our homes. They are usually written by brush on a diamond-shaped piece of red paper.


Origin of Nian


One of the most famous legends is 'Nian' (年, year), an extremely cruel and ferocious beast that the ancients believed would devour people on New Year's Eve. Nian would come to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. They found that Nian was afraid of three things: red color, fire and sound. People began to hung a piece of red peach wood at the door, lighted a pile of fire at the gate, beat gongs and drums heavily to make a loud sound, without sleeping throughout the night. One night Nian intruded into the village again and saw the red color and fire at every door and heard a thunderous sound. It was frightened and retreated. From then on it dare not come out again. After the night was over, people gave congratulations to each other.


To celebrate the great victory people of every family would paste red paper couplets on the door panels, light red lanterns, beat gongs and drums, let off fireworks and firecrackers all through the night. Early next morning they would greet each other happily.

Nian was eventually captured by Hong Jun Lao Zu, an ancient Taoist monk. The Nian became Hong Jun Lao Zu's mount.

Generation after generation, the tradition of observing the conquest of Nian is carried on. The term "Guo Nian", which means "Survive the Nian" became "Celebrate the Year" and the word "Guo" in Chinese means both "pass over" and "observe".


Red Packets ("HongBao")


On the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day, parents will give red packets (红包) containing money gifts to their siblings as a form of blessing; the children then place the red packet underneath their pillows when they sleep. Red packets are every child's delight at Chinese New Year! At Chinese New Year these are given by married couples to children/unmarried people. The red is used as the most auspicious colour, while the decoration may have a blessing or good wish. The symbolic giving of the money represents a wish for fortune and wealth in the coming year. The money may also be used to pay off debt, thus allowing a financial clean slate in the new year. This tradition is derived from the legend of "Nian", where the children are given red papers to protect themselves if they ever come into contact with the beast. The amount of money is always an even amout, since an odd amount is believed to bring bad luck.


Interesting Facts


People spend nearly a month ahead of time getting ready for the New Year, home decorations and buying ingredients for food. The 'spring cleaning' that goes on is also spiritually cleansing, allowing people to get rid of things that they don't want to hold on to and look to the year ahead, to a prosperous future.


New Years Eve is a reunion dinner for family members.

On Chinese New Year Eve, parents encourage children to stay awake as long as possible, because legend says that the longer children stay awake the longer their parents will live.


On the first day of the Chinese New Year, the oldest members of the family is visited. Meals are usually vegetarian because many Chinese people believe that giving up meat on this first day will help them live a longer life. No sweeping is allowed on this day as it is very unlucky as you might sweep the new year luck out of your house.


Mandarin oranges (Tangerines), which represents luck and prosperity, is handed out during the Chinese New Year.


Black and White clothes are avoided at New Year as they are the colours of mourning and funerals.


On 2nd day, they pray to their ancestors, for guidance in the New Year. They are also extra kind to dogs. This second New Year's Day is believed to be the birthday of all dogs.


The third and fourth days are reserved for sons-in-law to visit their wives' parents and profess respect towards them.


Po Woo is the name of the fifth day. Prayers this day go the God of Wealth. People do not visit family and friends on this day because they believe doing so would bring bad luck to everyone involved.


6th day is spent visiting friends and family and praying for good health and good fortune.


The seventh day of the Chinese New Year is called Yan Yat, "Everybody's Birthday." Family and friends get together to celebrate with a special meal of yu sheng, noodles are also eaten as a symbol of prosperity.


8th day, families have another special meal & offer more prayers for long life & prosperity.


The next four days are highlighted by more special meals. On the 13th day, a light meal to make up of the rich foods consumed during the past several days. And on the 14th day, Chinese people spend most of their time getting ready for the end of the celebrations.


The 15th and last day of the Chinese New Year focuses on Lantern Festival, children go out at night carrying laterns.