Cultural Coffee Break: Chinese New Year
It’s common knowledge that Chinese New Year is celebrated about a month after the Gregorian calendar’s New Year, and each year has an animal associated to it. But do you know why each year is named after an animal? There are many lesser known traditions that Chinese people still follow during their celebration.
Why are Chinese years named after animals?
The story of the Chinese ‘Great Race’ is taught in most primary schools across the United Kingdom, however a lot of people don’t actually know the reason why Chinese years are named after animals! The legend of the ‘Great Race’, very briefly, is that the Jade Emperor decided there should be a way of measuring time, so told the animals that they would have a swimming race and the first 12 to cross the line will have a year of the zodiac named after them. The rat won by riding on the ox’s back, so had the first year named after them, the second after the ox, then the tiger and so on… 2017 is the year of the rooster, who came twelfth.
Topmarks have a fun little version, if you’re interested in reading the whole story.
The Lunar New Year celebration lasts for sixteen days, the most important of which are the Lunar New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, much like the international New Year. On New Year’s Eve, families get together for a ‘reunion’ dinner, at which fish is served as the traditional dish. In Chinese, the character for fish is “余” (yu). This character can also mean “surplus”, so people eat fish in the hope that they will become wealthier in the following year.
New Year’s Day is also spent with family, and on the 2nd day of the Lunar New Year celebration, married women visit their parents along with their husband and have dinner with her family members. People then start to visit friends and other relatives from the 3rd day of the celebration.
Kids love Lunar New Year, and for good reason. Firstly, they get ‘lucky money’ from their elders in red pockets. In China, it’s believed that red can keep evil away and the lucky money can protect the children, so that they’re safe and healthy. The second reason kids love New Year is because they won’t be punished! Children get a free pass to misbehave and be as naughty as the like and won’t be punished by their elders.
The Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations finish off with a lantern festival. The Nanjing festival is perhaps the most famous, starting on the fifth day and lasting until the final day of celebrations. People from all over China go to visit the exhibition every year.
Cultural Coffee Break is a new series of blogs from Integro Languages LTD focusing on the more interesting aspects of language and culture around the world. We’ve learnt a lot this year about the different ways Christmas is celebrated outside of the UK– and some are pretty surprising! KFC for example… So, since Christmas is just around the corner, we’ve put together a round-up of our favourite and most off-the-wall Christmas traditions from around the world.