Chinese New Year
Of all the Chinese festivals celebrated throughout the year, the
Lunar New Year is the most important and spectacular. Chinese New
Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the new year and
ends on the full moon 15 days later. Because the holiday is based
on the lunar calendar, the dates vary. This year, Chinese New Year
will begin on February 18th.
China has been an agricultural country for thousands of years, and
Chinese New Year celebrates the season for planting, as well as
all new beginnings. At this time of year, families like to begin
with a clean slate, so houses are cleaned from top to bottom, things
that are broken are repaired, and everyone gets a haircut and new
clothes. According to tradition, old debts cannot be collected after
New Year’s Day so this is also the time to pay bills and settle
On New Year’s Eve, the family gathers for a large banquet.
The foods served have special meanings and are symbolic of what
is wished for in the year to come. For example, tangerines, oranges,
and kumquats represent good luck. The Chinese word for fish, yu,
sounds like the word meaning “surplus,” so a whole fish
is served to symbolize abundance.
Firecrackers and dances are also important aspects of the celebration.
Firecrackers are lit in front of each house to scare away the evil
spirits. Dragon dances begin on New Year’s Day and are believed
to bring wealth, wisdom, and power in the New Year. Lion Dances
are usually performed for three to five days of the New Year and
are thought to drive away evils spirits and bring good luck. Although
the lion is not native to China, the Chinese consider it a symbol
of power, wisdom, and good fortune.
The lion’s head is made of papier mâché and wood,
and is elaborately painted and decorated with strings, fringes,
tassels, and bells. The head can weigh more than 40 pounds. Attached
to the head is the body of the lion. The lion costume may be operated
by a single dancer who springs about while moving and shaking the
head. More often, the dance is performed by a pair of dancers who
form the front and rear legs of the lion. The lion is accompanied
by musical instruments such as a drum, large and small cymbals,
and a gong.
The fifteenth, and final, day of the New Year is the Lantern Festival.
The highlight of the festival is a parade in which families carry
beautifully designed lanterns around their city or a nearby park.