The festival is commonly called Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival. Its annual date is based on the phases of the moon. The first day of the Lunar New Year is the first new moon of the first day of the year in the traditional Chinese calendar. In this calendar, months are based on lunar cycles and Chinese New Year usually falls between January 21 and February 21. This year it falls on February 12.
The full lunar cycle is 60 years long. For those who celebrate Lunar New Year, their 60th birthday is particularly significant because they have completed a full lunar cycle. The cycle is made up of two overlapping systems, called stems and branches. The stems are 5 heavenly elements: metal, wood, fire, water and earth. The branches are named for 12 earthly animal signs: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig. Combined, this year is the Year of the Ox.
2021 is a metal year of the five Taoist elements. In feng shui, the metal environment is clean, pristine, pared down, and shiny like metal.
The Lunar New Year is celebrated in several Asian countries including Bhutan, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines.
There are many traditions and symbols associated with this celebration. Flowers feature prominently in Chinese New Year decorations; homes and businesses often display written messages that bring good luck. These messages are typically drawn with a paintbrush on a piece of red paper folded into a diamond shape. Oranges and mandarins, considered signs of luck and good fortune, are also found in homes and other locations.
Most traditions are about fresh starts- removing the old and welcoming the new, including cleaning one’s home, buying new décor and clothes, etc.
Food, and particularly the meal on New Year’s Eve, is considered the most important meal of the year. Dishes associated with luck, including fish (the Chinese word for it sounds like the word for “surplus”), puddings (symbolizes advancement) and foods that look like gold ingots (like dumplings) are staples, while tangerines, mandarins and jujube are all equally important.
In Chinese culture, the lion symbolizes power, wisdom, strength, stability and superiority. People perform lion dances at Chinese festivals or significant occasions to bring good fortune and chase away evil spirits. It is one of the most important traditions at Chinese New Year and is performed to bring prosperity and good luck for the upcoming year.
The lion portrayed by these dancers is a colourful and complex mythological character whose exact origins have been lost over the centuries; however, its existence is believed to date back to the Han dynasty (c. 205 BCE to 220 CE). There are several legends explaining its significance, including one that tells of Nian Shou (see Mythology section), an evil beast that lived underwater or in the mountains and that terrorized Chinese villagers year after year by attacking and eating people — children in particular — at the beginning of spring, the beginning of the new year.
The myth and relevance of the lion tells a story of how one year the monster was defeated by a lion, who chased it away. Nian promised to return the following year. That year, having no lion to protect them, the villagers worked together to create one to scare away the beast. They made a lion costume that two people put on. The monster was known to fear loud noises and the colour red; the lion costume is said to have scared the beast as it entered the village, while villagers, dressed in red, banged on saucepans and set off firecrackers. Since then, drums, fireworks and the colour red have all played a major part in Chinese New Year festivals.
Chinese New Year practices include passing out red envelopes of new money. Red is an auspicious colour; red envelopes symbolize happiness, luck, success and good fortune and are thought to ward off evil spirits.
Like all traditional festivals in China, Chinese New Year is steeped with stories and myths. One of the most popular is about the mythical beast Nian (/nyen/) Shou, who ate livestock, crops, and even people on the eve of a new year. Nian, the ‘yearly beast’, sounds the same as ‘year’ in Chinese. To prevent Nian from attacking people and causing destruction, people put food at their doors for Nian.
The story suggests a wise old man realized that Nian was scared of loud noises (firecrackers) and the color red. People put red lanterns and red scrolls on their windows and doors to stop Nian from coming inside. Crackling bamboo (later replaced by firecrackers) was lit to scare Nian away.
During Chinese New Year, certain activities are considered unlucky according to superstition, including hair cutting, using scissors and other sharp things, arguing, swearing, saying unlucky words such as “death”, and breaking things.
The first full moon of the (lunar) year is known as the Lantern Festival, featuring the flying of colourful lanterns at night. It marks the final day of traditional Chinese New Year celebrations.
Every year has a zodiac animal, this year it is the Ox, the 12th zodiac animal. While Western horoscopes have one zodiac for each month, in Chinese tradition, there are 12 Chinese zodiacs, too, but one each for the entire year.
The beginning of the new year is calculated based on Lìchūn, the new moon located nearest the start of spring in the northern hemisphere. The Chinese year always begins between 21 January and 21 February. Most of the time, the new year begins 11 days (sometimes 10 or 12) before the date on which the previous year began. However, if this date does not fall between 21 January and 21 February, a leap month is added, and the Chinese New Year occurs 19 or 18 days later.
Since 1997, Canada Post has celebrated the Chinese New Year by issuing stamps featuring the astrological sign of the current year. Since 1999, it has offered stamps of different denominations: one for first-class domestic mail, and one for international mail.
In Canada, Chinese New Year is celebrated publicly. In many cities across the country, Canadians of various backgrounds and religions take part in the festivities. Like for Christmas and Hanukkah, the prime minister issues a statement for the holiday, wishing a happy New Year to all Chinese Canadians. On 1 June 2016, the Parliament of Canada passed a proposal to recognize the Chinese New Year as an official holiday in Canada.
Sources and Credits: Canadian Encyclopedia, China Highlights, Chinese Embassy, Cooperative Housing Federation of Toronto, Wikipedia.