China is one of the world’s oldest civilisations with thousands of years of continued history. The recorded history of China goes back to as far as the Shang Dynasty (1700 – 1046 BC). However, historians still remain unclear the exact beginning of the Chinese New Year celebration in China. Suffice to say, it was said to have started from the year end religious ceremony in Shang Dynasty (1766 – 1122 BC). A few countered that it started from as early as Emperor Yao and Shun (~2300 BC) according to some historical records.
Notwithstanding, the date of celebration in ancient times varies from mid-winter to early spring until Emperor Wu (157 BC – 87 BC) of the Han Dynasty established the first day of the first month as the start of the new year when the solar base calendar was established. It is also called the Han calendar which is still being used till today. Chinese New Year is the most important celebration for all Chinese.
According to one mystical legend, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with a battle against a ferocious beast called the “Year” (nian). It looks like an ox with lion head and it lives in the water. On the eve of New Year, the “Year” (nian) will emerge to harm innocent people, animals and destroy properties. People later found out that the “Year” (nian) is afraid of the colour red, fire and loud sound. To protect themselves, they started to paste red “Dui Lian” in their houses, light up fireworks and lanterns to ward off the evil beast.
In typical Chinese fashion, families will gather together for a sumptuous reunion dinner on the eve of the New Year. Some families will cook and dine at home but some will choose to dine at restaurant. A dish is a must have and it is the fish which symbolises 年年有余 (nian nian you yu) - "May There Be Surplus Every Year". Be it at home or at the restaurant, it is usually a noisy affair with adults catching up with each other while their children play among themselves. Much to the delight of the food and beverage operators, they will see their busiest day during this period. This is an important get together for families regardless of how busy they are or at which part of the globe they are residing.
Prior to the start of the Chinese New Year, many Chinese families will do a complete cleaning of the house, re-painting it and replacing old household wares for old. Decorative items such as lantern, year paint, paper cutting, the character “fu” (signifies luck) and door god are all in lucky red colour. They believe in getting rid of the old and welcome the new to usher into a prosperous new year.
Another tradition that remains very intact is the red packets and very much adored by the children who are the receivers. The adults, especially married couples and the elderly gave the red packets that contain money to their children and even friends’ children. The Chinese believe that the money in the red packet will suppress the evil from the children and keeping them healthy.
Year 2015 will welcome the goat while we usher off the horse. The goat ranks eighth in the Chinese zodiac and it is said those who are born in the year of the goat are mild mannered, shy and sympathetic but pessimistic. However, they are said to be creative, dependable, intelligent and calm.
It has been a wonderful year of the horse which has brought prosperity and good health to all and we shall now look forward to another wonderful year of the goat.
Here’s wishing all Chinese a Prosperous Lunar New Year!