Chinese New Year English Essay

Chinese New Year, known in China as the Spring Festival and in Singapore as the Lunar New Year, is a holiday on and around the new moon on the first day of the year in the traditional Chinese calendar. This calendar is based on the changes in the moon and is only sometimes changed to fit the seasons of the year based on how the Earthmoves around the sun. Because of this, Chinese New Year is never on January 1. It moves around between January 21 and February 20.

Chinese New Year is one of the most important holidays for Chinese people all over the world. Its 7th day used to be used instead of birthdays to count people's ages in China. The holiday is still used to tell people which "animal" of the Chinese zodiac they are part of. The holiday is a time for gifts to children and for family gatherings with large meals, just like Christmas in Europe and in other Christian areas. Unlike Christmas, the children usually get gifts of cash in red envelopes (hongbao) and not toys or clothes.

Chinese New Year used to last 15 days until the Lantern Festival on the year's first full moon.[1] Now, it is a national holiday in the Republic and People's Republic of China, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. It is also celebrated in some parts of Thailand. In some places, only the first day or three days are celebrated. In the PRC, nearby weekends are changed to create a 7-day-long "Golden Week".

The traditional new years in Vietnam (Tet) and in Korea (Korean New Year) are almost always on the same day as Chinese New Year but are sometimes different. The Japanese New Year used to work the same way but has been very different since some changes in the 19th century. Losar and Tsagaan Sar, the traditional Tibetan and Mongolian new years, are very close to the Chinese New Year but different ways of thinking about the moon's changes and adding months can make them happen weeks apart from the Chinese festival.

Name[change | change source]

For more details, see Chinese language

The Mandarin Chinese name of the holiday is Chūn Jié,[a] which means "Spring Festival". This is why it is often called the "Spring Festival" by Chinese speakers of English, even though the holiday always occurs in the wintermonths of January or February.[b] Its name is written 春節 in traditional Chinese writing and 春节 in the easier writing now used by mainland China and Singapore. The Republic of China began to use this name in the 1910s, after it began to use the European calendar for most things.[2]

Before that, the holiday was usually just called the "New Year". Because the traditional Chinese calendar is mostly based on the changes in the moon, the Chinese New Year is also known in English as the "Lunar New Year" or "Chinese Lunar New Year". This name comes from "Luna", an old Latin name for the moon. The Indonesian name for the holiday is Imlek, which comes from the Hokkien word for the old Chinese calendar and is therefore also like saying "Lunar New Year".[3]

Another old name for the holiday was Lìchūn,[2] meaning "Early Spring". In Chinese, this is also a special name for the sun's place from about February 4 to 19 each year, when the sun is 45 to 30°ahead of its place on the 1st day of spring. The name is not often used to talk about the Chinese New Year any more. On Taiwan, the real Lichun has been called "Farmer's Day" since 1941. A year between two Chinese New Years without it is thought to be unlucky for marriages.

Day of the New Year[change | change source]

AnimalChineseDates
Trad.PRC
Mouse
(Rat)
February 19, 1996February 7, 2008January 25, 2020
Cow
(Bull)
(Ox)
February 7, 1997January 26, 2009February 14, 2021
TigerJanuary 28, 1998February 14, 2010February 25, 2022
Rabbit
(Hare)
February 16, 1999February 3, 2011January 27, 2023
DragonFebruary 5, 2000January 23, 2012February 14, 2024
SnakeJanuary 24, 2001February 10, 2013January 19, 2025
HorseFebruary 12, 2002January 31, 2014February 21, 2026
Sheep
(Ram)
(Goat)
February 1, 2003February 19, 2015February 26, 2027
MonkeyJanuary 22, 2004February 8, 2016January 14, 2028
Chicken
(Rooster)
February 9, 2005January 28, 2017February 2, 2029
DogJanuary 29, 2006February 16, 2018February 17, 2030
PigFebruary 18, 2007February 5, 2019January 20, 2031

For more details, see Chinese calendar

Chinese New Year always starts on a new moon, when the Moon is between the Earth and Sun and it looks all dark in the nightsky. Because new moons happen about every 29.53 days but the year set by Pope Gregory XIII is 365.2425 days long, the Chinese holiday moves to different days each year. The Chinese calendar adds a 13th month every so often to keep the seasons in the right place, so the first day of the new year always happens between January 21 and February 20 on the 2nd or 3rd new moon after the 1st day of winter.[c] The chart on the right gives the day of each Chinese New Year from AD 1996 to 2031.

Traditional counting[change | change source]

In the past, the Chinese emperors did not number their years from one place. Instead, they gave names to eras (groups of years) any time they wanted. Since they still changed its number at every new year festival, the first year of a new era might only be a few days long. One example of this is the "1st year of Kaiyuan" during the Tang, which lasted a week or so in AD 713. In the same way, people in China and around East Asia did not count their ages from zero or add one year at every birthday. They counted birth as the start of their 1st year and added another year upon the 7th day of the New Year, which they called People's Day (Rénrì). This came from an old story about how a goddess named Nüwa made all the animals. The day she made people was used as the common birthday for everyone. In this way, people sometimes called a baby who born on the 6th day of the New Year a 2-year-old only a few hours after its birth. (Today, it is much more common in China to count age starting at zero and add years at birthdays, like in English-speaking countries.)

Animals of the New Year[change | change source]

For more details, see Chinese zodiac and Sexagenary cycle

The Chinese used to keep time using 2 different lists of characters, known in English as the 10 Heavenly Stems and the 12 Earthly Branches. The stems were the 10 days of the week under the Shangdynasty, each with its own sun and a special gift to different dead family members of the king. The branches were parts of the almost 12-yearpath that Jupiter takes around the sun. Each is said to be yin (dark or female) or yang (bright or male), so that when they are put together they make a list of 60 pairs. (The current list began in 1984 and will end in 2043.) Later, each of the stems was also said to match one of the 5 Chinese elements—wood, fire, dirt, metal, or water—and each of the branches was said to be a different animal: mouse, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog, or pig.[d] The Han Chinese list begins with the Year of the "Wood Mouse"; the Tibetan list is much the same but begins with the Year of the "Fire Rabbit".

Today, Chinese people don't use these lists to count hours, days, or years but many still pay attention to the animal of the year when someone was born. Just like with the Europeanzodiac, some people think the year's animal can change how someone thinks and acts. They even think it can change whether a marriage will be a happy one or not. Newspapers pay writers to give them ideas for how lucky different animals will be during the coming week. Many parents even time their children's birth within a year or two to give them the best animal sign: a Chinese primary school might have full classrooms of "goldendragon" students but noticeably fewer "dirt mice". For those who do believe such things, it is important to notice that the traditional Chinese calendar's year starts at a different time from the usual year. People may say that 2017 is the "Year of the Chicken" (or "Rooster") but the people born in January or early February2018 will still be "Chickens" and those born in the first few weeks of 2017 were still "Monkeys".

History[change | change source]

Chinese tradition said that the Chinese calendar began during the 60th year of the reign of the Yellow Emperor in 2637 BC, with New Year celebrations beginning in that year.[4] As far as we now know, it's much less old than that. Parts of the old ways of counting time given above are at least as early as 1250 BC, during the Shang times. Most of it was known by the Zhou (11th–3rd centuries BC). The 5 elements and small points were set by the Han (2nd century BC–2nd century AD). From eastern China, the calendar and its new year spread to nearby places like Vietnam (111 BC), Korea (before AD 270), Japan (604), and Tibet (around 641). It also followed the overseas Chinese to their new homes in Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other places.

The Shangkings (16th–11th centuries BC) gave special gifts to their gods and dead family members during the winter of each year.[5] Under the Zhou, people were having harvest festivals like today's Mid-Autumn Festival by about 1000 BC. Over time, common people started to give gifts to their gods and their dead family members, just like the king.[5] Parts of the harvest festival stopped being thanks and celebration of the last year. They moved to before the planting of the seeds and became wishes and celebration of good luck in the next year.[5][2][6]

By the early Han, people were counting their birthdays from People's Day on the 7th day of the New Year. The order of animals' birthdays was said to be chickens on the New Year, dogs on the next day, pigs on the day after that, sheep on the 4th, cows on the 5th, horses on the 6th, and then people.[7] About the same time, people started burning bamboo to make loud noises to welcome the New Year and scare away bad things.[5]

People started carefully cleaning their homes, having large family dinners, and staying up late on the day before Chinese New Year by the end of the Three Kingdoms (3rd century). By the end of the Jin in the 5th century, these things had become a common part of Chinese life.[5] Some Taoistmagicians may have made gunpowder as early as the Han or Jin,[8][9] but they certainly had it by the 9th century at the end of the Tang. Over the next few centuries, fireworks and firecrackers replaced burning bamboo as a way to chase away anything bad and to welcome in the New Year.[5]

Dragon dances had appeared by the time of the Han. People thought that Chinese dragons like Yinglong and Shenlong were kinds of gods who had power over where the water in rivers and canals went and when the water in clouds would fall as rain. Because this was very important for farming, dragon dances could happen all through the year when rain was needed.[10] Different parts of today's dragon dances began at different times, with some at least as old as the Song (about 1150)[11] and others very new, like using special paint that glows under black light.

Lion dances were probably newer. China has not had its own lions since the spread of people out of Africa into the rest of the world. The earliest lions in Chinese books were gifts to the Hanemperor from Parthia and other people who lived along the Silk Road connecting Chinese and Roman businesses.[12] There was lion dancing under the Tang[13] and in Japan by the 8th century, but people still thought of it as a foreign dance used by Buddhists.[14] Today, people talk about "Northern" and "Southern" kinds of lion dances. The special northern kind began under the Southern Song (12th–13th century). The special southern kind began in Guangdong later, maybe under the Ming (14th–17th century).

As part of other changes, the Meiji Emperor of Japan ordered in 1873 that the new year celebrations of his country would be held on January 1. Today, even most of the traditional Japanese celebrations now occur on that day, not at the same time as Chinese New Year. In 1928, the Nationalist Party of China tried to change the Chinese celebrations to January 1, too, but this completely failed as the Chinese people protested or ignored the new laws and continued as usual.

In 1965, some people tried to change Indonesia's government, making its army less powerful. They failed and Suharto said they were working for Indonesia's Communists, who were working with Mao Zedong's Communist China. In 1967, Suharto helped make laws against using Chinese language or culture, including any celebration of Chinese New Year.[15] These laws were not changed until after the fall of Suharto in 1998.[16][3] Indonesia made Chinese New Year a national holiday for everyone a few years later in 2003.

In 1967, as part of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, the PRC's government did not celebrate or allow special time off work for the traditional new year. The State Council said that the people of China should "change customs" and have a "revolutionized and fighting Spring Festival". Public celebrations returned by the time of Deng Xiaoping's Opening Up Policy in the 1980s. In particular, the government helped with dragon and lion dancing, thinking that it was part of the special culture of Chinese people.[17] Since the year 2000, Chinese New Year has been one of the PRC's Golden Weeks: there are three days of paid time away from work during the first few days and two weekends around it are moved to make a 7-day-long holiday. These Golden Weeks copied a similar Japanese idea.

In 2015, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah set out tough new laws about the celebration of Chinese New Year in Brunei. This followed earlier laws like it about Christmas and is part of introducing traditional Islamic law to the country.[18][19]

Events[change | change source]

Mainland China[change | change source]

People in China usually try to be together with their family for at least the first few days of the holiday. Because of the large number of Chinese people and the many people who work away from their hometowns, all this "spring traveling" (chunyun) is the biggest movement of people in the world every year.

Houses are cleaned completely. In former times, sacrifices were made to the gods and dead family members in the days before the holiday.[2] A "reunion dinner" happens in the evening of the last day of the traditional year ("New Year's Eve").[20] Older and married people give younger ones cash in red envelopes known as hongbao in Mandarin Chinese or laisee in Cantonese.[2]China Central Television puts on a long show with many star actors, singers, and dancers. It is usually the most-watched TV show in the world each year. Lately, its ads have also become some of the world's most expensive, although they are still behind those during the USSuper Bowl.

Children don't need to go to bed early and stay up to midnight. Around 12 o'clock, the new year is welcomed with publicfireworks and private firecrackers. Children are told that these remember a monster called "Nian" ("Year") who was scared away by a town's loud noises and bright lights on a Chinese New Year long in the past. Some people call or send text messages and e-mails to say "Happy New Year!"

During the first few days of the new year, many people visit the homes of their grandparents, parents, and other relatives, as well as their closest friends. More hongbao may be given. Temples also have special fairs with lots of street food. There are Peking opera and martial arts shows and lion and dragon dances in major cities. Lion dancers usually have two people inside each lion. People feed the lions green plants and hongbao, and the lions keep the money and spit out the plants. The dragon dancers usually hold the dragon up on poles and chase a pearl held by another dancer. The dragons can be very long. So far, the longest was in Hong Kong in 2012. That one was a little over 5.6 kilometers (3.5 mi) long. Hong Kong also has special horse races at its racetrack. A 100,000 people sometimes come to the big race on the 3rd day of the New Year, which has a lion dance and other shows.[21]Guangzhou has several special flower festivals.[22]

The day of the new year's first full moon is called the Lantern Festival. Many streets and homes are decorated with old paperlanterns. In the past, this was one of the few days of the year when the women of families with lots of money could go outside their homes. They walked the streets nearby with their maids and could say hello to people outside their family. This still causes the festival to make people think of young adults meeting their future husband or wife.

Taiwan[change | change source]

On Taiwan, most events and traditions are the same as those on the mainland. The most important special event is the YanshuiBeehive Fireworks Festival, where fireworks are shot straight into the people watching the show. Being hit is supposed to bring good luck, but this used to be very unsafe. Today, people wear special hard hats (helmets) and thick clothes to protect them from the fire and fireworks.[23] Another special event is the "Bombing of Master Handan" in Taitung, where people throw firecrackers straight at the members of a parade who are wearing only red underwear and towels.[23] Taiwan's Hakka people have a tradition like this, where firecrackers are thrown at dragon dancers as they parade through towns. The dragon is then burnt up at the end of the dance.[24]Taipei's City Lantern Festival also goes on for most of the holiday, not just during the 1-day Lantern Festival at the end.[24]

Philippines[change | change source]

Chinese New Year is a national holiday in the Philippines. People do not get money without working, but anyone who does have to work on the "special non-working day" gets 130% of the usual pay. Binondo—sometimes considered the world's oldest Chinatown—sees a lot of traditional celebrations, such as lion and dragon dances.[25] Its people also try to pay back any money that they owe before the New Year.[26][27]

In 2001, Davao City stopped letting people use fireworks because its people were hurting themselves too much. Their leaderRodrigo Duterte became president of the country and said that he wanted to stop fireworks everywhere. As president, however, he has so far continued to let people use them.[28]

Indonesia[change | change source]

Chinese New Year (Indonesian: Imlek) is a 1-day national holiday in Indonesia. Chinese people have lived there since at least the 15th century, when Zheng He's ships visited its islands for the Yongle Emperor of the Ming, and many more came when the Netherlands held the islands as a colony. Suharto stopped Chinese Indonesians from celebrating Chinese New Year in 1967.[15]Some people had tried to change the government in 1965 and Suharto said Indonesian Communists and their friends in the PRC had done it. Things changed after the fall of Suharto in 1998,[16] and Indonesia made Chinese New Year a national holiday for everyone in 2003.[3]

Now that it is OK again, Chinese Indonesians celebrate the holiday much as people in China do. Dragon and lion dances are common at shopping centers, which sometimes have special sales to let Chinese people buy new (often red) clothes to wear for the holiday.[29] People cannot use fireworks in most of Indonesia, but some cities like Jakarta let people use firecrackers.[30]

Some older Chinese traditions still survive in Indonesia. Like in the Philippines, people try to pay back any money they owe before the New Year. People also try not to lend any money during the holiday, because they think it will make them have to keep lending money for the whole year.[16]Doors and windows are opened on the day before the New Year to "let the old year out", and people wake up early the next morning so they don't stay lazy the whole year.[16] The red envelopes of money (Hokkien: âng-pau) are given on the morning of New Year's Day, not at dinner on the night before it.[16] Many make special trips to one of Indonesia's Chinese temples at some time during the holiday.[16]

It is also still common to leave some food at the table for dead family members and to give them gifts as the New Year begins.[16]Chicken is usually eaten with the head, tail, and feet still on, showing "completeness".[16]White rice is eaten but fresh white tofu is not, because in Chinese culture its color makes some people think of death and bad luck.[16]

Malaysia[change | change source]

Most of Malaysia gets two days off work for Chinese New Year: the New Year itself and the day after it. The largest celebrations happen around Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur, at the Kek Lok Si Temple in George Town, in Ipoh, and on Jonker Street in Malacca.[31] Some people still follow the tradition that the second day is used for married women to visit their parents, after visiting her husband's family on Chinese New Year's Day.[32] Most Chinese Malaysians take the entire week off of work, despite the shorter length of the national holiday.[32] Traditional Chinese use the 3rd day of the New Year to visit the resting places of family members who died in the last 3 years; people without a death in their family stay home.[32]

An unusual tradition in Malaysia is the idea of "open house" dinners, especially on the 2nd and 3rd night of the holiday. Guests, friends, and even strangers from different races and religions can be let in to enjoy large dinners together.[33] The Malaysian government even has its own "open houses" at community halls.[33][34]

In addition to fireworks at the beginning of the New Year, many people light them on the 9th day of the holiday to celebrate the birthday of the Jade Emperor, the boss of the Chinese gods.[31] The day was used for a special Hokkien New Year, the story going that, one time in the past, the Hokkien people had to hide from robbers for 8 days in a sugarcanefield. Because of this story, lots of sugarcane is used for Malaysian decorations for Chinese New Year.[32]

Teochew-style Yusheng, a fish-and-noodle dish, is extra common in Malaysia, where it is called "yee sang" or "prosperity toss". A restaurant in Seremban started getting people to eat it by throwing it high in the air for good luck in the 1940s, and people had so much fun that they have done it ever since.[31] Properly, it should have 7 parts and be eaten on the 7th day of the holiday, but people now eat it in different ways, too.[32] Another common dish is "steam boat", a kind of seafoodhot pot.[32] As in other Chinese places, eating and giving away oranges and tangerines is common in Malaysia. A special tradition is for women with no boyfriend or husband to throw an orange into the sea to find a man. Some now write their telephone numbers on the oranges they throw, and men will use boats to go out and get the fruit.[33]

Many people in Malaysia who believe in Islam and Hinduism have also started giving red envelopes full of money—which Malaysians call "ang pow" from its Hokkien name âng-pau—during their own holidays, like Eid ("Syawal") and Divali ("Deepavali").[31] The Islamic ang pow usually have Arabic designs, and the Hindu ones are often purple.[34]

Singapore[change | change source]

A shop selling decorations for Chinese New Year in Wuhan, China(2006).
A picture you can touch to show the days of different years' Chinese New Years
A Manchu businessman in Yingkou welcoming the God of Money Cai Shen to his home on the day before Chinese New Year some time in the 1910s
Yusheng, a fish-and-noodles dish that sounds like "Lots of Good Things Coming" in Chinese, is eaten in Malaysia by tossing it high in the air
Chinese all over the world celebrate Chinese New Year in February when the Lunar Year usually begins. In Malaysia, the Chinese celebrate the event with a festive spirit as it is the most important festival to them and every Chinese home is made ready for the great event.

The preparations begin a month or so earlier as there are many things to be done before the great day arrives. Shops and supermarkets stock all kinds of Chinese delicacies, eg. sweetmeats, melon seeds and packets of specialities such as groundnuts which the Chinese must obtain and store up for the festival.

In Chinese homes, the womenfolk get busy making cakes, biscuits, glutinous rice cakes and jellies which are stored away carefully, out of the reach of young children. Homes are spruced up, new curtains sewn, and new cushions and carpets bought to give the home a new look. Red lanterns are hung outside and new pots of flowers and Mandarin orange plants are placed in the garden.

Children are the ones who enjoy the festive season most. They receive red packets containing money from their parents and their elders. New dresses are worn and old things cast aside as the New Year is supposed to be the start of a new period in their lives and everyone follows these traditional customs.

On New Year's eve, the whole family gathers in the parents' home for a re-union dinner. Many delicious dishes make up the meal and everyone enjoys himself. This is only the start of the Chinese New Year celebrations which stretch on for a period of fifteen days.

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