Traditional Chinese New Year dates back to many centuries, involving a rich cultural practice that emphasizes its purpose for the upcoming new year.
Every new year is represented by an animal in the Chinese zodiac. It is believed that each animal predicts what is to be expected in the new year and the characteristics of each individual born within the year. There is a relationship between Chinese New Year and animal symbolism and they are correlated to one another. There are several complex details when it comes to the Chinese New Year and animal symbolism.
Although there is no exact date when the Chinese New Year began to arise, many believe it started during the Shang Dynasty, which took place from 1766 B.C. to 1122 B.C. This theory came about when oracle bones were found with astronomical records engraved in them. However, others believe the annual festival began earlier than the Shang Dynasty around 2300 B.C., where Emperor Yao and Emperor Shun were in power.
The Chinese calendar has specific guidelines and was planned in line with lunar phases, solar solstices, and equinoxes. The Chinese people celebrate the New Year in a 15-day period, known as the Spring Festival. The Spring Festival begins on the second New Moon after the Winter Solstice. Due to this specific parameter, the Spring Festival is estimated to begin around from January 21 to February 19. The Chinese New Year is an exceptionally important holiday for China and is taken very seriously.
Due to its high importance, Chinese families will usually begin preparing for the holiday days a few days before. Some activities people perform before welcoming the new year by shopping for new items, cleaning their house from bad ghosts and luck, and decorating their home. Usually, the people of China will decorate their homes with the color red, upside down Fu’s, Dui Lan’s, etc. When Chinese New Year Eve arrives, Chinese families will gather and have dinner and launch fireworks. The tradition of launching fireworks and releasing firecrackers is done in order to ‘scare away’ evil spirits in order to enter the New Year with good spirits only. Once the new year is welcomed, people light off fireworks right after midnight to scare off the mystical animal named “Year”. This imaginary animal comes from Chinese legends and is said to come out on Chinese New Year to harm humanity.
Chinese legends say that “Year” has fears of the color red, fire, and loud noises. Fireworks is the best way to scare off “Year” and start the New Year right. Also, it is believed that the first person to set off a firework on Chinese New Year will have luck for the whole year.
For the family dinner, long noodles is considered a traditional meal, as well as dumplings.The first day of the Chinese New Year is seen as a day to meet with family. Occasionally, elderly members of the family will give children what is known as “red packets”, which is a red envelope with money in it. The purpose of the “red packets” is to give good luck to children and to wish them a long, healthy life. On the second day of the Moon Festival, people will host a special ceremony to honor their several gods.
On the third day, families will have a ceremony dedicated to their family ancestors. Ancestors are highly respected in Chinese culture and must be honored and cannot be let down. On the last day of the festival, which is the fifteenth day, the Lantern festival will take place and is the last tradition of the Moon Festival. Furthermore, Chinese New Year cannot be mentioned without speaking of symbolism of animals. Every Chinese year has an animal associated with one of these twelve animals in the following order : rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Each animal has its own unique set of characteristics and has certain strengths and weaknesses.
It is said that one represents or has the characteristics of whichever animal is associated with the year they were born in. This is known as the Chinese zodiac, or Sheng Xiao, and is aligned with the Chinese lunar calendar. Since there are twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac, they rotate in a twelve-year cycle. The twelve animals are in a specific order because it follows the Chinese Yin and Yang theory. Additionally, the twelve animals are set in a yin and yang pattern and is determined if their number of toes are even or odd.
Animals with even number of toes are considered “yin”, while animals with odd number of toes are considered “yang”. However, the twelve zodiac animals were not associated with years since the Chinese zodiac was created. Centuries ago, the Chinese would divide the twenty-four hour period into half and would have a certain animal represent a certain part of the day. The Chinese created this in order to be able to tell what time it was in a more efficient manner. Nowadays, the Chinese zodiac animals are used to represent years instead of hours. Chinese astrology still believes that a person’s life is determined more on their birth hour rather than their birth year.
In conclusion, Chinese New Year is considered the most significant holiday for the people of China. Celebrating the Spring Festival is important and brings luck to Chinese families for the new year. The Chinese zodiac resembles what type of characteristics someone has, which is determined on what year they were born, and predicts what will happens in their lives.