In the Western world, the new year is a time to start over, make changes, and resolve to improve. With the dawn of a new day and year, people make deals with themselves to change something about their life that they don’t like. The Chinese New Year, however, differs in that it’s tied to tradition and symbolism. Theirs is an ancient culture, and most traditions and celebrations are steeped in that history. Celebrating Chinese New Year includes observing these traditions, many of which are based on centuries-old myths.
The dates for New Year’s 2020 are: the Spring Festival officially beginning January 25th (January 24th is New Year’s Eve) and ending with the Lantern Festival on February 8th.
New Year’s Eve Monster
On Chinese New Year’s Eve, an ancient monster called Nian would come from the sea to feast on animals and people alike. Once, as the people were fleeing for the hills, an old woman took in a beggar and he promised to get rid of Nian. When the monster saw red paper on the house, he stopped and roared with anger. The beggar, dressed in red, then threw firecrackers at Nian and all the monster could do was turn and run in fear. This is why families decorate their homes in red and light firecrackers at midnight; they do so to scare off Nian.
Good Fortune is Here
It’s said that during the Ming dynasty the Emperor ordered every household to decorate with the word fu (happiness or fortune) on their doors. At dawn he ordered his soldiers to check that everyone followed the order. One illiterate family pasted the banner upside down, and the Emperor ordered them to be executed. The Empress saw this and explained that “upside down” is a homophone of “here,” so upside down it means that “fu is here”. The Emperor was pleased with the explanation and spared them. That’s why people today hang their fu banner upside down.
Festive Spring Wine
Tusu wine is specific to the Chinese New Year. It’s said that a plague-ravaged village and killed many. A man put leaves, grains, and herbs into a bag and gave it to his neighbors. He told them to soak the bag in water and drink it on New Year’s Day. The villagers found the magical drink saved them from the plague. It became known as Tusu wine after the Tusu style home the man lived in.
The Red Pockets
According to legend, there was an evil spirit called Sui. It would come on Chinese New Year’s Eve and pat the heads of sleeping children three times. They would get a fever from this interaction and would never be the same if they recovered. One set of parents entertained their kids with gold coins one night. When they fell asleep the coins were placed on red paper next to them. The coins flashed when Sui came and scared him away. From then on parents gave their kids coins wrapped in red paper on New Year’s Eve.