Gong hei fat choi! This is one of the greetings that you may hear today as it is the first day of the Chinese New Year. Many think it means “Happy New Year” but actually it means “Congratulation and be prosperous”.
The Chinese New Year is actually a 15 day long festival and the most important celebration in the Chinese culture. Being around 2,000 years old, the festival is one of the oldest and longest running festivals in the world. As with most days that are recognized that are this old it is based on the lunar calendar, which does not coincided with the present western calender. The festival, also known as the Spring Festival, begins on the new moon and concludes on the first full moon.
The festivals roots lay in a legend where a Chinese farmer was attacked by a dragon during this time of year named Nien, which is also the Chinese word for year. It was discovered that the dragon could be scared with loud noises and the color red. Because of this it is good luck to set off firecrackers and the color red is considered a very lucky color, many of the clothes people will wear incorporate it.
There are many traditions and customs that are followed on both the first day and then through out the festival. The giving of red envolopes seems to be one of the most important of these. It is given from older people to children and unwed young adults and contains money. Sometimes the money may be in the form of chocolate coins, but what ever type of money it may be it will never add up to four as the word for four and the word for death are very similar. Another tradition is that one does not sweep during the first day of the new year as it will sweep away good luck, tied to this same thinking is that you should not wash your hair on the first day as it to will wash away luck, though this is gone out of fashion with modern thinking on bathing. At midnight between the last day and the first day every door and window should be opened to let the bad luck out so you can start the year off fresh with good luck.
I will not be going through each and everyday as I made the mistake of witting this a little late I did want to point out that the second day is the birthday of all dogs. Being a dog owner I thought this was very cool, though was unable to find why this day was chosen or why dogs are the only animal to really be recognized during the festival.
The last day of the festival is the Lantern Festival, which I plan to go into much more detail on that day.
So have a Happy New Year!
History Channel: http://www.history.com/content/chinesenewyear