Courtesy Of: everythinghapa.com
The largest and most important holiday of the year for most Chinese throughout the world, the Chinese New Year, does a beautiful job uniting friends and family, passing tradition from one generation to the next, and exciting entire communities with elaborate parades, fireworks, and customary cuisine.
While celebrated the world over, California is fortunate to have the San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade, which holds the distinction of being the largest and oldest celebration of its kind outside of Asia and the largest Asian cultural event in all of North America. Other major cities known for their Chinese New Year celebrations include Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, Toronto, Sydney, and London to name a few.
Typically falling anywhere from late January to early February falling on different dates on the western Gregorian calendar, the 15-day Chinese New Year celebration is traditionally the most important holiday of the year. Twelve animals from the Chinese Zodiac are cycled through to correspond with each New Year; 2013 is the Year of the Snake, which symbolizes intelligence, gracefulness, and materialism. Because Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the lunar calendar, it’s also called Lunar New Year as well as the Spring Festival because the event is considered the beginning of spring. While traditions may vary in different parts of China, festivities around the world hold many customs in common.
Out with Bad Luck, In with Good Luck
To start the year right, families will give their homes a thorough cleaning a few days before the Chinese New Year to sweep out bad luck and make room for good luck. In fact, brooms and dust pans are put up on the first day of the New Year so good luck won’t get swept away.
After the house has been cleaned, it’s time to decorate. To welcome the New Year, the house is adorned with decorations that are mostly red in color, which represents prosperity. Common Chinese Year decorations include papercutting, couplets, and Chinese paper lanterns.
New Year’s Eve Dinner
On New Year’s eve, family members gather for the most important dinner of the year—the New Year’s Eve reunion dinner. During this meal, ancestors are remembered and prayers of thanks are offered. As the most anticipated and largest event of the year, the dinner is usually held at the eldest family member’s home. It’s customary dishes included in the dinner are fish, meat, lobster, and dumplings. Dumplings are also served and eaten just before midnight to help ensure prosperity.
Red Envelopes and Gifts
After dinner, red packets containing money, symbolizing good luck and honorability, are distributed to family members. Usually, red packets are given by married couples and elders to younger children in the family. In addition to the red envelopes, small gifts of food or sweets are exchanged between relatives and friends.
Fireworks and Lion Dance
Traditionally, right after midnight fireworks and firecrackers are set off to drive out evil spirits, and communities host or participate in a lion or dragon dance—a symbolic ritual that ushers in the New Year. The ritual includes loud beating of the drum and clanging of the cymbals as the face of the lion or dragon, which chases away bad or evil spirits.