Following on from the traditional New Year for Saint Sylvester’s Day on December 31 and the Orthodox Russian New Year, it’s time for us to travel to Asia for the Chinese New Year! This holiday is celebrated from February 5 onwards, but what does it entail and to what extent is it a festive time in China? We met up with May Yang, Marketing Manager at Union Pay, a Chinese financial institution, to find out more.
What is the meaning of the Chinese New Year?
The Chinese New Year mainly mars the end of the current year and welcomes in the following one. Chinese people respect their ancestors and nature, and so present offerings during the New Year period. Family ties are also essential to us, and those who live far away come home to spend time with the ones they love.
Why is the Chinese New Year not celebrated on December 31?
The Chinese follow a lunisolar calendar, and so in the Gregorian calendar the date of the New Year varies from one year to the next but always falls between January 21 and February 19.
Red and gold seem to be the symbolic colors of this event. Why is that?
This legend has several versions, and the one about Nian is the most popular. So the story goes, in ancient times there was a strange, particularly ferocious animal with horns on its head. This beast was called Nian, and lived in at the bottom of the sea. Every year it would come to dry land on New Year’s Eve to devour both cattle and people. People in the villages would stick red leaves to their doors to scare away Nian. The color red has since become a sign of reassurance for the Chinese, and today symbolizes happiness. The color gold – like the precious metal – represents wealth.
2019 is the Year of the Pig in the Zodiac calendar. Does this have a particular meaning?
In Chinese astrology, a 12-year cycle is represented by 12 animals paired with their terrestrial counterparts. According to the legend, the order of the 12 animals is dictated by a race, and the pig was the last one to finish. This year therefore heralds the end of the cycle, and will begin again in 2020 with the year of the mouse.
How is the Chinese New Year celebrated? Is it different from region to region?
Celebrations can vary between regions. The Chinese generally reunite with their families for New Year’s Eve, followed by a night vigil that represents longevity. In the days that follow, we buy and give gifts, visit friends and other family members, and play mah-jong. Gifts have been a tradition of the Chinese New Year for a long time, and are given by elders to the younger generation in a symbol of happiness of the coming year.
What are some of the traditional dishes?
There are many across all the regions, with different ones in the north, the south, the west, and the east. In general we enjoy raviolis in the north and a meal made of a variety of dishes in the south. There is also a traditional sticky rice cake.
Which drink is enjoyed with these dishes?
There is so much choice today, but wine and distilled liquors are still the most popular. Kweichow Moutai, for example, is a famous distilled drink enjoyed by many during the Chinese celebrations.
How will you be celebrating the Chinese New Year?
As the New Year is very important for the Chinese and that, unfortunately, I can’t go home this year, my family is going to come to me. In China there is a week’s holiday for the occasion. With an average of 5 days’ holiday for most Chinese people, our New Year is a lot like the National Day Golden Week – the longest period of national holiday in October.