‘Kung hei fat choi’: All about the Lunar New Year

‘Kung hei fat choi’: All about the Lunar New Year

The Lunar New Year, also known as the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, is the most important holiday in Chinese culture and it is celebrated around the world. Said to have begun during the Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 B.C.), the centuries-old legend’s origins of the holiday varies from teller to teller, but the main theme is always the same — fear.

The story includes a terrible mythical lion-like monster named “Nian” (which is also the Chinese word for “year”), who preyed on villagers.  A wise old man counseled the villagers by instructing them to make loud noises with drums and firecrackers to ward off the evil monsters.  He also said that they should hang red paper cutouts and scrolls on their doors because Nian is scared of the said color. Since the defeat of the monster, the day has been named “Guo Nian” (“guo” meaning pass and “nian” meaning year) or “to pass over the year.”

Based on the lunar calendar, the event normally falls between January 21 and February 20.  As with many festivals around the world, it is believed that how you spend the start of the year affects its outcome.  It is also one of the longest public holidays in China, where most people take time off from works for seven consecutive days.

This year, the holiday begins on February 16 and marks the beginning of the Year of the Dog.  Following the Chinese lunar calendar, it was traditionally a time to honor household and heavenly deities as well as ancestors.

The cycle of 12 stations or “signs” is the Chinese zodiac is part of the Chinese calendar. However, the calendar’s structure wasn’t static: It was reset according to which emperor held power and varied from one region to another.  It was also a complex timepiece, which parameters were set according to the lunar phases as well as the solar solstices and equinoxes. Yin and yang, the opposing but complementary principles that make up a harmonious world, also ruled the calendar.

Every new year was marked by the characteristics of one of the 12 zodiac animals:  the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

The Western-style Gregorian calendar arrived in China along with Jesuit missionaries in 1582. It began to be used by the general population by 1912, and New Year’s Day was officially recognized as occurring on January 1.  China, however, continues to celebrate Lunar New Year with the traditional greeting, “Kung hei fat choi.” (AJPress)

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