Lunar New Year 2016
This year, the Lunar New Year will begin on Monday, February 8. It is the biggest event of the year for Chinese people and Chinese emigrants throughout the world. Although there are various styles of celebrating the Lunar New Year, the spirit behind these celebrations is the same. The beginning of the New Year marks a time for a fresh start, so people try to clean up everything completely and tie up loose ends before the end of the previous year. On New Year’s Day, people wear new clothes. This day people also pay their respects to their ancestors, so it is a family reunion day rather than a day for dining out and partying. Families go to temples to pray for deceased family members and offer them special Near Year foods.
The symbolic color of the Lunar New Year is red. Streets and houses are decorated with red ornaments bearing the characters for happiness, prosperity, peace, and spring, among others. Chinese communities literally turn red. Kids receive money from relatives in red envelopes known as hong bao.
Lunar New Year parades attract many spectators, not only those of Chinese descent, but also people outside the Chinese community. The lion dance (not a dragon dance) is the main performance of the parade. The traditional dance is based on a Chinese myth about people successfully driving away monsters. The dance has evolved as the Chinese diaspora has spread throughout the world. There are two main versions: the northern lion dance and the southern lion dance, and the latter is seen more often in the world because more Chinese immigrants are from the southern regions of China.
Firecrackers also enhance the excitement of the parade. You may think firecrackers for the Lunar New Year are too noisy and perhaps scary, but these are meant to drive away evil spirits, so they should be scary! Many people are willing to endure that noise once a year in hopes of staying away from misfortune the rest of the year.
The Lunar New Year celebration culminates with the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunar calendar, which is the first full moon of that lunisolar year. During the event, countless lanterns are hung, decorating temples and streets at night. There are several legends associated with the festival, but the lanterns are almost always red, the color of good fortune.
Lunar New Year cuisine also differs from place to place, although there are some significant similarities. People in most regions eat something wrapped and stuffed (dumplings, spring rolls, banana leaf–or bamboo skin–wrapped sticky rice), something long (noodles), and money-like fruits (tangerines and oranges). Fillings, toppings, and sizes vary depending on the culture, but all foods symbolize good things like abundance, longevity, and prosperity. Whole fish is also symbolic main dish in most Lunar New Year celebrations.
Japanese people celebrate the first day of the New Year as well, but in a very different way. Called Setsubun, the celebration is accompanied by a special ritual of throwing beans to clean away all the evil of the former year in the lunar calendar and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits from the year to come. Roasted soybeans are thrown either out the door or at a member of the family wearing an oni (demon or ogre) mask. The throwers chant “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Get out, demons! Come on I, good luck.”)
Japanese people also customarily eat soybeans – one for each year of one’s life (if you are 25 years old, you eat 25 beans) – to usher in good luck. In some areas, people eat one bean for each year of one’s life, plus one more for good luck for the year to come (if you are 25, you eat 26 beans). Also, there are some regions where people bite into futomaki (big sushi rolls) without cutting them at all. They believe that your wish will come true if you bite into an uncut futomaki known as an echo-maki. The “roll” symbolizes “rolling good luck in,” and to bite the “uncut” roll represents not cutting this good fortune.
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