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Happy Chinese New Year: 新年好

Celebrating the year of the rabbit

Written by Andrea Brazis

The New Year’s just begun, but instead of watching a shiny disco-type ball fall from the New York City flagpole, you’re painting the house red, picking your expired dry-shampoo bottle out of the trash and attempting not to swear at your siblings who woke you up from your morning nap. Despite this, you’re also chowing down on dumplings and receiving money in a little red packet from relatives that you’ve never heard of.

Chinese New Year (also referred to as “Lunar New Year”) is a truly beautiful holiday that celebrates “removing the bad and old and welcoming the new and good.” This holiday is rooted in rich Chinese culture and customs dating back about 3,500 years. Each of the Chinese dynasties offered something unique to the creation of Chinese New Year, creating customs and traditions that could be recognized and celebrated for the years to come.


A popular legend associated with the Chinese New Year is that of a mythical beast called Nian (year). He was said to eat crops, livestock and people on the eve of each new year. In order to prevent him from doing this, people would leave food at their doors. At a later time, a wise man found out that Nian was scared of both the color red and loud noises such as fireworks and firecrackers. People then began to put red lanterns and scrolls around their house; they also used crackling bamboo to scare Nian away. This legend sparked many of the customs that are still practiced today.


Red is the color of the New Year. It’s worn, decorated, discussed — red covers everything. While red is also a primary color associated with both China and its flag, red is more prominent because it “scares off evil spirits.” Additionally, red is the color of luck; since they’re celebrating a new year, they want to begin it with all the elements of “good luck.” Red also symbolizes energy, vitality, good fortune and celebration, among other things.


Throughout the course of the holiday, firecrackers are set off multiple times — including before New Year’s dinner, after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day and during the Lantern Festival. The firecrackers set off at midnight are considered the world’s biggest firework presentation in the world, with over 1 billion lighting up the sky. Like the color red, firecrackers are used to “scare away evil spirits” in order to start a more prosperous and safe new year. This festival causes the world’s largest migration annually, bringing hundreds of millions of people from all over China and across continents to celebrate the New Year with their loved ones.


DOs and DON’Ts of Chinese New Year:


DO clean your house


Cleaning one’s house before the New Year is a way to ensure that all previous bad luck is cleared away to make room for good fortune and luck in the coming year. Emphasis on before the New Year, on the eve of; after the clock strikes midnight, it’s considered very unlucky to clean, as it could “wash away” or “clear away loved ones.”


DO eat lucky foods


The main meal eaten during the festival is the Spring Festival Dinner where the following dishes are served, including dumplings, fish, rice cakes and Mandarin oranges, to name a few. Different countries have different “signature” dishes: sticky rice has appeared popular in multiple countries, specifically Vietnam and Korea.


DO offer sacrifices to your ancestors


Honoring those who have passed is a sacred Chinese tradition; it shows that they’re still with the family and will help them become more prosperous. This is a way for individuals to pay tribute to their family, as family is respected with the highest regard in Chinese culture.


DO share wealth with your loved ones


Sharing monetary gifts tied with messages of encouragement is seen as a way of sharing wealth and bringing blessings of good luck to family and friends alike. These forms of wealth should be packaged in red lai see packets, the color encouraging “good luck.” These red packets can also be gifted from employers to unmarried employees, as a sign of gratitude for their work and devotion.


DO NOT cut or wash your hair


In Chinese culture, the character for “hair” is the same as the first character in “prosper.” Therefore, washing one’s hair during this holiday is seen as “washing away the fortune” and “reducing chances of prosperity.” Similarly, cutting one’s hair is seen as “cutting your life short.” This only applies for the first day of the New Year.


DO NOT cry

Crying is seen as a foreboding of disease and misfortune, so a crying child on Chinese New Year may mean crying throughout the entire year. This day serves as a “free pass” for children, as parents refrain from punishing or disciplining their children during the holiday.


DO NOT swear

It’s believed that whatever you do during Chinese New Year sets the tone for the rest of the year. By swearing during the celebration, this could predict frequent arguments or issues within relationships. Avoiding negative talk of death, poverty or sickness is important to prevent bad luck or misfortune for the coming year.


DO NOT wear black or white


Black and white are colors often associated with tragic events with a negative connotation, such as funerals. Like everything else, this insinuates bad luck for the year; it’s encouraged to wear red instead.


2023 is the year of the rabbit. The rabbit is associated with the Earthly branch, and legends consider the rabbit to be proud and slightly arrogant. An article by Chinese New Year says, “Rabbits are earnest with everything they do; they just ask that others treat them the same way.” It symbolizes mercy, beauty and elegance; it’s also considered the luckiest of the twelve animals.


Chinese New Year’s traditions and customs offer a certain level of skepticism and “good karma, bad karma” philosophy. However, these age-old traditions are rooted in meaningful legends and the core foundations of Chinese values. These practices not only strengthen Chinese culture, but bring families together, creating a strong sense of belonging and familiarity.


Indulging and celebrating cultures outside of your own is a meaningful way to grow socially and emotionally. Even 7,074 miles away, connecting to Chinese traditions, celebrating China’s people and educating oneself on their culture is a beautiful thing. By learning more about those around us and the roots of their history, we can mold a truly beautiful world.


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