As of this week, the year of the monkey arrives, according to the Chinese. The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival takes place between the 21st January to the 20th February — depending on the day which the new moon falls on. It is a traditional celebration based around Chinese folk stories and religion and is celebrated in a unique way. This includes dancing dragons, lions, fireworks, red envelopes and spending time with loved ones. During this time, many Chinese head to work and return to family homes for around one week to celebrate and relax.
The monkey is the ninth of twelve animals in the recurring 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle. The animals always re-occur in order, and are believed to have varying characteristics which are rumoured to affect the year ahead. In this case, the monkey may symbolise fun, creativity and innovativeness. The Chinese may also participate in several unique methods to ensure the New Year brings them good luck. For example, many Chinese may wear red coloured clothes, as red is considered one of the luckiest colours in Chinese culture. They may also wear Jade stone accessories in order to bring more good luck.
Red envelopes (hong bao) have become a holiday custom during the Chinese New Year. Red envelopes are often given from parents to younger generations, or from bosses to employees as an end-of-year bonus. Those who receive a red envelope are wished another year which is fruitful and peaceful. Recent technology has allowed this exchange to take place even more efficiently, through the communications app called “Wechat”. This instant messaging app allows users to send money instantly with a personalised red envelope style message at New Years, making it easier to contact loved ones who may be far away. A further example of spreading good luck, many Chinese may give red envelope money rounded up to eight, for example 88 yuan or 188 yuan. This is because the number eight is considered a lucky number in China and the word sounds similar to the pronunciation of another word which carries a positive connotation.
On the 15th day of the first lunar month (usually in February or March) the Lantern Festival takes place. This festival stretches back to over 2000 years ago in the beginning of the Eastern Han Dynasty, after Emperor Hanmingdi insisted all temples, households and royal palaces light lanterns on the 15th day of the first lunar month. During this time, many Chinese people get together to celebrate and get involved with various activities. This includes lighting and enjoying creative lanterns in all different shapes, guessing riddles written on lanterns and watching lion or dragon dances. The lantern artwork is shaped into images such as animals, flowers or buildings with Chinese significance.
Furthermore, there are various types of special food associated with this occasion. For example, eating yuanxiao is a custom of the Lantern Festival. These are ball-shaped dumplings with sweet stuffing such as sugar, nuts or bean paste. Yuanxiao may be boiled, fried or steamed and are often served in a fermented clear soup called tianjiu. The Lantern Festival may be enjoyed in most parts of China, however some suggestions for larger festivals are the Beijing Yanquing Lantern Festival Flow Exhibition, and Shanghai’s Datuan Peach Garden Lantern Festival. Alternatively, tourists in the area during this time may visit the largest lantern festival in China which is Qinhuai International Lantern Festival. It is held in and around the scenic Confucius Temple in Nanjing province.
What other countries celebrate the Lunar New Year alongside the Chinese?