February 16th marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year 4716, the year of the dog. This is the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese culture. The festivities start on the first day of the month of February and continue until the fifteenth day– the day of the Lantern Festival. On this evening, when the moon is shining the brightest, you can find beautiful displays of lanterns and children carrying them while marching in parades. A common celebration throughout the Chinese New Year includes prayer sessions at temples, where those in attendance ask for good luck during the celebration period; there, they can also burn incense and have their fortunes told.
It’s important in the Chinese culture to have a clean home before the beginning of the New Year, some people refer to the pre-celebration tradition as a way to “sweep away bad luck.” It’s believed that cleaning not only rids the home of bad luck that was accumulated over the past year but also creates a new environment for good luck to occur again. Take note though, it’s advised to refrain from cleaning during the fifteen day holiday; to do so is to “sweep away” the good luck you’ve already received from the New Year.
Once homes are fresh and hygienic, ready to accept good luck, re-decorating with a red theme is a popular occurrence; red symbolizes good luck in Chinese culture. Lotus flowers are a common decoration as well since they symbolize rebirth and new growth. Mandarins can also be found, placed in bowls throughout the home. Mandarins intact with leaves are considered to be the fruits of happiness for the New Year. Fun fact: you’ll always see mandarins displayed in even numbers; odd numbers are thought to bring unhappiness, so be sure to always offer in pairs!
Positive interaction with people around one another is important during the holiday. Spreading good will and happiness to those around you is an underlying factor to the New Year; to fight or have a negative attitude will only bring bad luck. When greeting someone during the New Year period, use a greeting such as “Gong Xi Fa Cai,” meaning “Happy New Year” in Mandarin Chinese.
Don’t forget the firecrackers! The loud noises are thought to scare away bad spirits and prevent them from bringing bad luck. Decorating homes with plastic firecrackers wards off bad luck as well as symbolize the noise made when real firecrackers are lit.
There are many different ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Each tradition offers a small glimpse into the deep history of the Chinese people and their customs. The holiday period is an excellent opportunity to take the time to learn and appreciate all that the Chinese culture has to offer. So this month: celebrate, experience, and most importantly, “Gong Xi Fa Cai!”