Learning Mandarin is easier when you learn Chinese Culture. Today we will talk about Chinese New Year—one of the most exciting celebrations of the year in Chinese culture comes when the old year leaves and a new one begins. Although you may celebrate on December 31st with your friends, in 2023, consider another festive gathering or cultural event on January 22nd too. This is the start of the Chinese New Year, a time full of exciting stories, amazing decorations, and wishes for good luck, health, and prosperity in the days to come.
What Is the Legend Behind Chinese New Year?
Legend has it that a long time ago, there was a monster who always
slept in the mountain. He only came out one time each year, on New Year’s Eve, to destroy the village and to eat people and poultry. That is why people called him “Nián年(year)”. Each year before New Year’s Eve, people packed their luggage and ran away, then came back home on New Year’s Day. They hated “Nián年” very much, but they didn’t know what to do. Then one day, a hero called “Qīláng七郎” came to the village and told everyone he knew how to deal with this monster. So, he lived in a villager’s house. He wore red clothing, prepared bamboo firecrackers, attached many red papers to the door and walls, and waited for “Nián年” to come. That night, Nián年 emerged from the mountain and went to the village.
When he arrived at Qīláng七郎’s house, he saw the red paper on the door and started to feel apprehensive. Then Qīláng七郎 opened the door, holding a red torch, and said, “Nián年, I am waiting for you!” Suddenly, Nián年 felt his eyes burn painfully. He could not open his eyes and roll on the floor in agony. After that, Qīláng七郎 lit the bamboo firecrackers which made a loud bang, hurting Nián年’s ears. Nián年 feared the red color and loud sounds. He could not stand it anymore and escaped far away.
The next day, New Year’s Day, the people returned to the village and found it safe and sound; all the chickens were alive, and the buildings were intact. They were very happy because they had found a way to deal with Nian年. Ever since, on New Year’s Eve, people continue to take the same actions to protect against the monster: wearing red clothing; attaching red papers, called Duìlián对联 (couplets), to the walls, and setting off fireworks to scare away “Nián年”, thus protecting themselves, keeping safe, and bringing good luck for the whole year. The monster “Nián年” in Chinese culture represents bad luck.
The annual celebration is also called the Lunar New Year as it occurs at the first sighting of the new moon in January or February. That means the exact date when the fifteen-day event begins differs every calendar year. It is also considered a spring festival and a great time to honor ancestors and hold a family reunion.
Why Is The Color Red So Important?
Because of the legend above, the color red is a pure symbol of luck and good fortune in China, and it shows up in nearly every decoration, gift, and icon of the Chinese New Year. People pass out small red envelopes filled with money to children and fellow adults alike. These represent wishes for wealth and plenty in the new year.
Traditional Lucky Foods and Activities to Celebrate Chinese New Year
Family reunions frequently take place during the Chinese New Year. Traditionally, Chinese families cook sumptuous dinners on New Year’s Eve called nián yè fàn 年夜饭(New Year’s Eve dinner). The main dishes include chicken, duck, fish, dumplings, noodles, and hotpot. Appetizers and desserts include Spring Rolls, Rice Cake, Steamed Sponge Cake, Pineapple Tarts, etc. Typical fruits are Mandarin Orange, Longan, and Kumquats. The reason to eat these specific foods comes from their Chinese pronunciation, color, and shape.
For example, in Chinese nián nián yǒuyú年年有余 is a way to wish someone well; it means “to have abundance every year”. Fish “yú鱼” has the same pronunciation as yú余. Therefore, eating fish represents abundance and growing wealth year by year. Also, to represent “abundance”, traditionally, Chinese people won’t eat all the fish. Instead, they leave some fish meat on the bone for leftovers. Similarly, Niángāo 年糕 (Rice Cake) has the same pronunciation as Niángāo年高 (year high). It represents a higher income or a higher position. The appetizers, such as Spring Rolls, Pineapple Tarts, and Dumplings, represent gold bars and gold ingots because of their color and shape. Mandarin oranges and kumquats represent Fortune Fruit because their color is yellow and gold. Eating these will bring wealth and fullness for the whole year. Chinese people eat noodles on New Year’s because they are long, representing good health and longevity.
On New Year’s Eve, families also watch the CCTV New Year’s Gala TV Program, and kids go out and play firecrackers with siblings, cousins, and neighbors. They also stay up late and count down the time. During Spring Festival, it is also a popular time to complete an in-depth ‘spring cleaning’ of the house, put up couplets on the walls or door, and paper cuttings on windows for good luck because the dust and monster Nián年 represent bad luck. People also go shopping, and many malls have big sales during the holidays. People also go to the temples to make wishes or honor their ancestors. Communities also hold a special performance called Wǔ lóngwǔ shī 舞龙舞狮 (dragon and lion dance) that brings good luck and is associated with drums and firecrackers.
Many more entertaining activities surround the holiday. The whole celebration lasts 15 days and ends with the Lantern Festival in February.
What Zodiac Sign Belongs to 2023?
As 2022 ends and a new year begins, we leave behind the Year of the Tiger and enter the Year of the Rabbit. The Chinese zodiac has a total of twelve animals, which includes such beasts as the Rat (shǔ 鼠), Ox(niú 牛), Tiger (hǔ虎), Rabbit (tù兔), Dragon (lóng龙), Snake (shé蛇), Horse (mǎ马), Ram (yáng 羊), Monkey (hóu 猴), Rooster (jī鸡), Dog (gǒu 狗), and Pig (zhū猪). In Chinese culture, rabbits are signs of peace, prosperity, and hope. These are all things the world needs more of today. If you were born in 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, or 2011, then you belong to the Rabbit zodiac. Your Chinese Zodiac personality traits are talent and love. You like to talk, and many people trust you.
Based on Chinese culture, we also want to share an interesting “12 Zodiacs” song that is from the famous Chinese singer Wang Leehom (feat. Jackie Chan) with you. In this song, you will quickly learn the sequence of the Chinese Zodiac, and easily learn how to say the 12 animals. After learning this song, can you figure out what the zodiac animal will be in 2024?
We always care about cultural inputs and help our students learn Chinese in the cultural context. Want to learn more about how to use words in the appropriate situation? Sign up for our group or one-on-one Mandarin classes in Bellevue or Seattle at NewConcept Education. We offer flexible class packages and multiple options to make learning easier, fun, and rewarding.