Ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year with cultural traditions
The year of the horse, 2014, will begin on January 31, 2014. This day is lunar new year, which marks the start of the new lunar cycle and is called the Spring Festival in China. The lunar new year is not only celebrated in China, but many countries across the world, as well as Chinatowns throughout the United States. In Denver, many cultural shows, lion dances and banquet dinners invite the public to join in on the celebration.
How is Lunar New Year celebrated?
Chinese New Year is the most important and longest of all Chinese festivals. Traditional activities include:
- Making offerings to household deities.
- Wearing new clothes, particularly in red.
- Hosting a large banquet for family and friends. Often, the evening preceding New Year’s Day is an occasion for families to gather for an annual reunion dinner.
- Taking part in lion and dragon dances, as well as festive parades featuring acrobatic demonstrations, beating gongs, and clashing cymbals.
- Giving “lucky money” to children in red envelopes.
- Opening household doors to let good luck enter on Chinese New Year.
- Cleaning the house before New Year’s Day. All cleaning supplies are put away on New Year’s Eve because cleaning on New Year’s Day could sweep away all good fortunes.
- Chinese New Year may also include a lantern festival, where people hang decorated lanterns in temples and carry lanterns to an evening parade.
Celebrated around the world
Chinese New Year is a public holiday in China, which lasts for 15 days. The 15th day marks the first full moon after the Spring Festival and of the New Year, also known as the Lantern Festival day.
It is also a public holiday in countries such as Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, North Korea, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam. In Vietnamese culture, Lunar New Year (Tết) also marks the arrival of spring. Tết can be divided into three periods, representing the preparation before Tết, the eve of Tết, and the days of and following Tết with customs performed for each period.
Seol-nal, also known as Korean New Year, lasts three days. Losar, the Tibetan New Year, lasts for two weeks, and the main celebration is three days, celebrated in both Nepal and India.
Lunar new year is not a public holiday in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom or the United States. However, some businesses may close early and some streets may be closed for a short while to allow for festival parades to take place.
The Story of the Chinese Zodiac
Chinese New Year, which is the first day of the first month, in the Chinese calendar is assigned to an animal. According to one belief, Buddha promised gifts to all animals that would pay him homage. Only 12 animals came to honor Buddha so, to favor these 12 animals, each one was given one of the 12 years of the Chinese zodiac. People born during one of the animal’s years are said to inherit distinctive characteristics of that animal. The signs repeat every 12 years. See what animal you are and read your 2014 zodiac horoscope on the following page.
Chinese New Year has various symbols and traditions. For example, flowers are an important part of New Year decorations. Two flowers that are often associated with Chinese New Year are the plum blossom (courage and hope) and the water narcissus (good luck and fortune).
Writings that refer to good luck are often seen in homes and business environments. They are usually written by brush on a diamond-shaped piece of red paper. Windows and doors are also decorated with red color paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of “good fortune” or “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity.”
Red envelopes with money symbolize happiness, good luck, success and good fortune. The color red is also used on these envelopes to ward off evil spirits. These envelopes are mainly given as presents to children.
Red is a big color for the Lunar New Year; it represents joy and happiness, while black and white represent mourning and sadness.
What about orange? Well, the fruit. While everyone knows oranges are loaded with vitamins and nutrients, they can also be the key to good fortune. Exchanging and eating oranges during the Lunar New Year is a common custom, as they symbolize wealth, health and prosperity.
Eating food that looks like money during New Year’s celebrations is considered good luck, such as dumplings (jiaozi). During New Year celebrations, jiaozi are called yuanbao, a reference to the ancient, ingot-shaped Chinese currency. Eating them is said to bring prosperity. While making them, families sometimes tuck good-luck foods like peanuts (to bring long life) into some of them.
Another representation of long life are noodles. Eating long noodles during the new year represent longevity.
Dishes are often paired with pork because pigs are considered forward-moving animals. Eating pork can help you move forward. Eating whole fish may also bring abundance in the new year, since the Chinese word for fish sounds like abundance. But it is important that the fish is served with the head and tail intact, to ensure a good start and finish, and to avoid bad luck throughout the year.
A big aspect of the Lunar New Year is to honor ancestors, who are essentially the foundation of one’s existence. Families tend to gather at the home of elders. Offerings are made and incense are burned for ancestors who have passed away.
During Tết, Vietnamese families visit their passed relatives at cemeteries and temples. They clean the tombs to provide a deceased family member with continuous happiness and well-being in the afterlife. It is a way of continuing to show respect toward them, and it reinforces the unity of family and lineage.
In the Korean culture, children perform a traditional bow to their elders, wishing them great prosperity in the upcoming year.
Ward away evil and bad luck
Dragon and lion dancing was traditionally used to chase away bad spirits and bring good luck to communities. Dragon and lion dancing are believed to bring peace, good prosperity, good luck, health and happiness to all. The dragon, lion, turtle, phoenix, and carp are the five lucky animals in Asian culture.
The Thai New Year or “Songkran” is celebrated April 13-15; people throw water on one another to wash away bad luck and cleanse Buddha statues and images. The celebration is much like a three-day water fight, where the cleansing customs are considered fun and games in many areas. Cleansing rituals are actually performed all over the world; masses of people gather to plunge into bodies of water to wash away the bad luck of the previous year.
Firecrackers, which were first developed by the Chinese, are rumored to have first been lit to ward off evil spirits, who despise loud noises. Plastic firecrackers are sold for the Lunar New Year to hang around the home for the same purpose.
Whether you choose to sweep away your bad luck or change your wardrobe to only red attire, remember that most importantly, the new year is an opportunity to start anew.
How to Maximize the Lunar New Year in Denver
1. Chinese restaurants, especially those located on Federal Blvd., will not accept reservations. It will be first come, first served during the lunar new year weekend. Be prepared to wait a long time for customer and food service. It is not a time to eat and run, but to enjoy the special
2. Community centers, Chinese organizations, and Chinese language schools will provide day-long and weekend celebrations throughout the metro area. There will be lion dance performances free for the general public.
3. Check out student organizations on college campuses. Asian/Asian-American organizations will showcase dances and cultural events for Lunar New Year. CU Boulder and CU Denver have announced their annual Tết show will be on February 15.
Asian Avenue magazine wishes you a happy new year with good luck, great health and wonderful prosperity! We invite you to join us to celebrate on Friday, Jan. 24 at Kings Land Chinese Seafood in Denver for our annual banquet dinner. For more information, visit www.asianavemag.com/horse.