The Legend of Nian

The legend is about a fierce monster called Nian who came out every year to eat humans. People learned that the monster was afraid of the color red and the sound of the firecrackers. So, every year they drive away the monster by setting off firecrackers, wearing red clothes, and making red decorations. The Chinese New Year is called Guo Nian, which means “Pass the Year” or defeat the monster Nian.

It is the oldest and longest traditional festival in China and Southeast Asia. People return home for an annual family reunion making it the world’s largest migration. Chunyun is typically the Spring Travel Rush and it’s estimated that nearly 500 million people are traveling home for New Year’s celebrations. Workers generally take 1-2 weeks off of work, and students get 4 weeks off from school.

The Lunar New Year is not only celebrated in Mainland China, but also observed in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, and other Asian countries, as well as in Chinatowns around the world, including San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, Vancouver, Sydney, Melbourne, and other cities.

Chinese New Year has become one of the world’s most celebrated festivals.

Traditionally, the build-up lasts weeks, with families traveling, paying respect to ancestors, cleaning to drive out bad luck and buying new clothes, decorating, and of course, eating! The traditions and taboos surrounding Chinese New Year are all about what to do—or not do—in order to secure good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

Traditions and Taboos

There are many traditions and taboos during this time. A lot of preparation goes into the holiday before the New Year because the first five days are “auspicious” or favorable days for catching and retaining good luck.

Prior to February 12

  • Cleaning the house represents driving out bad luck and preparing to receive good luck.
  • Decorating with red is tied to the legend of Nian. Red is a symbol of happiness, wealth, and prosperity. Decorations include couplets (decorations on either side of a door), the character “Fu” which is hung upside down, Chinese knots, and window paper cut-outs.
  • Buying something new to represent a new year. Many people buy new clothes for the important family reunion meal.
  • Preparing the food and making dumplings. This is a family-bonding time where everyone gets involved.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, February 11-12

  • Family Reunion Dinner always includes a whole fish which represents surplus and fortune for the new year. Fish is called “yu” which has a similar pronunciation as “surplus”.
  • Eating dumplings jiaoziJiaozi sounds like two words meaning “exchange” and “midnight” so dumplings are emblematic of the exchange between the old and new year. The shape of the dumpling is like an ingot so eating them is said to bring wealth and fortune. People also wrap coins, candies, or peanuts in the dumplings for different blessings: a coin for wealth, candy for sweet life, and peanuts for health and longevity.
  • Fireworks also come from the legend of Nian. New Year’s Eve sees the largest usage of fireworks on the planet.
  • Red envelopes, Hong Bao, of money are traditionally given to children. According to legend, a mythical monster Sui came on New Year’s Eve to harm children. A sleeping child touched by Sui would become sick. Parents prayed sincerely and God sent eight guards disguised as coins to protect the children. The custom became threading eight coins on a red string and placing them under children’s pillows to ward off Sui. As time passed, paper notes replaced the coins and the red envelope replaced the thread. With the advent of technology, Red Envelopes are also sent via Apps.
  • Temple Fairs include traditional folk performances, puppet shows, blessing ceremonies, handicraft works, games, gardens, and street food stalls.

Parades are held world-wide with some of the biggest outside of mainland China. The dragon is always the final showcase of the New Year’s parade bringing good luck, a long life, and wisdom. San Francisco boasts a spectacular 288’ Golden Dragon Gum Lung that takes a team of over 180 people to carry.

Happy Chinese New Year’s Eve!

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day traditions:

  • Chinese New Year’s Eve is February 11th, and Chinese New Year’s Day is February 12th, 2021.
  • Family Reunion Dinner always includes a whole fish which represents surplus and fortune for the new year. Fish is called “yu” which has a similar pronunciation as “surplus.”
  • Eating dumplings jiaozi. Jiaozi sounds like two words meaning “exchange” and “midnight” so dumplings are emblematic of the exchange between the old and new year.
  • Fireworks also come from the legend of Nian. Chinese New Year’s Eve sees the largest usage of fireworks on the planet.
  • Red envelopes, Hong Bao, of money are traditionally given to children.
  • Temple Fairs include traditional folk performances, puppet shows, blessing ceremonies, and more.
  • Parades are held worldwide. The dragon is always the final showcase of the Chinese New Year’s parade bringing good luck, a long life, and wisdom.

Many countries celebrate the New Year. These are some traditional New Year’s greetings in different languages:

  • China: Gōng xī fā cái “Happiness and Prosperity”
  • Vietnam: Chúc Mùng Năm Mói “Happy New Year
  • Korea: Sae hae bok manhi bah doo seh yo “Please receive lots of Luck this New Year”
  • Singapore: Gong xi fa cai “Wishing you prosperity and wealth”
  • Indonesia: Selamat Tahun Baru, mari kita sambut “Happy New Year, let’s start the New Year with joy.”
  • The Philippines: Kung Hei Fat Choi “Happy Chinese New Year”
  • and there are many more!

COME BACK FOR MORE
WAYS TO CELEBRATE THE NEW YEAR!

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