China celebrates its Lunar New Year today, with the occasion also marked by Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines, as well as Chinese communities in major cities around the globe.
A Lunar year charts 12 complete cycles of the moon and lasts for roughly 354 days, in contrast to the western solar year, which is 365 days long in accordance with our planet’s movement around the sun.
A spirit animal from the Chinese zodiac is given to each lunar year, with this year celebrating the year of the dragon.
The Traditions of Lunar New Year
The special annual event is heavy with symbolic meaning, including traditions such as hanging red paper lanterns and banners displaying cheerful messages, and gifting children with small sums of money in red envelopes – red being symbolic of good luck.
Houses are also given a top-to-bottom clean in the run up to the lunar new year, in an effort to banish dirt and dust which has gathered over the past year; giving the homeowners a fresh new start.
Another tradition commonly carried out is the paying back of debts, which is also believed to give a fresh start. On top of this, those who observe lunar new year avoid cutting their hair of wearing white or black clothing, as both colors are associated with mourning.
Other traditions include firework displays conducted to banish the nian, a mythical half-lion, half-dragon creature. Folklore tells us that the beast, believed to feast on kids, is scared off by the noise and frenzy from exploding rockets, sparklers and flares. This mythical evil is also ‘banished’ from the world by the nian dance groups who parade through town centers thrashing out gongs and drums.
Aside from the years of Covid lockdowns, lunar new year celebrations typically see a rush of people returning home to spend time with their families. The travel frenzy during the break is called “chunyun”, and can lead to as many as 3 billion trips made. Of course, during 2020 and 2021, due to Covid, this number was significantly lower.
As with family reunions in western society, the younger members of the tribe can be under a lot of pressure to impress their parents and grandparents. This is a somewhat nerve-wracking experience, but during Lunar New Year a solution is available.
During new year celebrations in China dating sites generally offer fake dates for hire, typically charging between 500 and 6,000 renminbi (72 – 860 dollars), which helps younger family members avoid awkward chats with their parents.
According to Chinese mythology, it was the Jade Emperor who created the zodiac. The ruler invited the animals to cross the river and visit him on his birthday to talk about the establishment of the calendar, along with the promise that the first 12 animals to arrive would be rewarded with a place on the wheel.