After my previous post, I was piqued with curiosity—enough to do some research. Accustomed to greeting the start of a new year on one day via a huge global party, wherein nations attend as midnight strikes their time zone, I wanted to know what took place during the traditional 15-day Lunar New Year celebration.
I learned that the celebration commences with the new moon on the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar. And it concludes on the full moon—15 days later. Hence, its name.
During this timeframe, historically the Chinese community celebrates by visiting various people to pay their respect. And, six of the 15 days are assigned to commemorate six animals represented in the Chinese calendar.
- Day 1 – Birthday of Chicken (or Rooster): Asians show a strong respect for their elders, and on the first day of this celebration, elder family members are visited to strengthen kinship. It’s important to start off the new year by cleansing and purifying the body—everyone eliminates dishes made with meat. Thus, vegetarian dishes, such as Buddha’s Delight made with 18 different ingredients are consumed. The number 18 signifies wealth and prosperity.
- Day 2 – Birthday of Dog: Traditionally, married women visit their birth parents. Since the day also celebrates the birth of Dog, canine and other stray pets are spoiled on this day by being fed very well. People often eat wontons on this day since these resemble gold ingots, symbolizing good fortune, and it’s believed that the Chinese God of Wealth left Earth to go to Heaven on this day.
- Day 3 – Birthday of Pig: While visiting other people’s homes is highly encouraged for most of the 15 days, this third day is an exception. It’s thought to be bad luck to go outside visiting anyone on this day, except to pay respects to dead loved ones at the graveyards. Even so, these visits are brief as spirits are believed to be roaming around.
- Day 4 – Birthday of Sheep: Basically, this is a continuation of Day 3.
- Day 5 – Birthday of Ox (Cattle): Brief visits to friends and classmates are fine on this day. However, since this is thought to be the birthday of the God of Wealth, these visits are kept short to ensure that everyone is back at their respective homes—just in case the deity drops by.
- Day 6 – Birthday of Horse: This the perfect day to be with friends and family members and visit temples.
- Day 7 – Birthday of Men: There are numerous versions for what took place on this day. One legend notes that after Nüwa, the goddess who created the world made the animals on different days, she grew lonely and created humans from yellow clay to keep her company.
- Day 8 – The Completion Day: On the eighth day, another family gathering takes place and everyone prays to the Jade Emperor.
- Day 9: On this auspicious day, the Jade Emperor celebrates his birthday. He is believed to be the God of Heaven, the Ruler of all Heavens (the Chinese have more than 30) and Creator of the Universe in Taoism.
- Day 10 to Day 12: The feasting continues with friends and family.
- Day 13: With all the rich foods that have been consumed thus far, it’s high time to cleanse the system again. Vegetarian dishes, including mustard greens are at the top of the menu. (This makes sense since you want to enjoy the prosperity the new year brings.)
- Day 14: Everyone is busy preparing for the Lantern Festival.
- Day 15 – Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao Festival): Marking the first full moon of the Chinese New Year, family and friends gather for another celebratory dinner where lanterns and oranges are focal points. Round-shaped foods, such as Yuan Xiao—sweet dumplings made of glutinous rice flour with sugar fillings, are consumed, as they resemble the shape of the full moon. Click here for a recipe.
- One legend notes that this festival is tied to helping lost and evil spirits find their way home. In essence, the Lantern Festival celebrates and nurtures the positive relations between friends, family and nature. People honor the deities or higher beings because they’re believed to have the task of bringing the light and returning it to everyone every year.
Enjoy this YouTube video of a previous Sky Lantern Festival in Taiwan. On February 6, 2012 (the 15th day), a similar event will take place in Pingsi (New Taipei City), Taiwan where 1,000 lanterns will light the sky.
Did You Know?
- Paper lanterns were once used to send messages over enemy lines.
- Everyone writes their wishes on the paper lanterns, which are then ceremoniously released at the night of the festival. Tradition notes that the wishes travel to the deity of heaven.
- While it’s not part of their traditional culture, countries with large segments of Chinese communities celebrate Chinese New Year, including Bhutan, Nepal, the Philippines, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Mongolia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore, etc.
If you’re in the New York City area, here are a couple of places where you can sample some free Chinese celebrations over the weekend:
- Saturday, January 28, 2012 – Head to the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center on 220 Vesey Street for the venue’s first-ever indoor Chinese cultural event presented by the New York Chinese Cultural Center (NYCCC). Bring the entire family and let the kids enjoy some arts and crafts where they’ll try their hand at calligraphy, Chinese paper cutting and face painting. Watch some lion dances, folk dancing and martial arts demonstrations. The free event starts at 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. No reservations are needed. For more details about the NYCCC, click on this link.
- Sunday, January 29, 2012 – 13th Annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade & Festival starts from 11:30 to 4 p.m. The parade begins at 1:00 p.m. in Little Italy and winds along various streets of Lower Manhattan and Chinatown, including Mott Street, Canal, Bowery, Chatham Square, East Broadway, Eldridge, Hester, Forsyth and Grand. The parade stops at Grand Street by Sara Roosevelt Park. Don’t miss this free event.
Should you be attending a Chinese New Year gathering, don’t forget to gift your host with some auspicious items, such as oranges or tangerines—which are round in shape, and symbolize “gold” for prosperity and wealth.
And if you get hungry at some point while you’re out enjoying the festivities, don’t forget it’s NYC Restaurant Week 2012. Perhaps a visit to a participating Chinese restaurant is just what you need to refuel.
Editorial Creatives wishes all of you good fortune, prosperity and much happiness in the year of the Water Dragon.