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Home > Article > Traditional Celebration of the Chinese New Year
 
Traditional Celebration of the Chinese New Year
 
Gung Hay Fat Choy
 
The Chinese New Year is perhaps the most complex, colorful, and important celebration amongst all the traditional Chinese festivals, which is celebrated on the first day of the First Moon of the Lunar Calendar. It is a time for the Chinese people to congratulate each other and themselves on having passed through another year, a time to end the old, and to greet the new year. The Chinese usually say ‘Guonian’ for having passed the old year, and ‘Bainian’ for congratulating the new year.

The Chinese New Year is also a time for family reunions, and for visiting friends and relatives. This holiday indicates the importance of family bonds, and the Chinese New Year's Eve dinner gathering becomes one of the most important family occasions of the year.

Similar to the Western New Year, Chinese New Year also signifies turning over a new leaf. Preparations for the Chinese New Year start days before the New Year's Day. The annual housecleaning or the ‘sweeping of the grounds’ is done on the 20th day of the last month. Every corner of the house must be swept and cleaned to sweep away any traces of bad luck. Doors and windowpanes are repainted, usually in red.

Spring Couplets, written in black ink on large vertical scrolls of red paper, are placed on the walls or on the sides of the gate-ways. These couplets, short poems written in classical Chinese, are words of good wishes for the family in the next year. Flowers and fruits are used to decorate the house, and colorful new year pictures (Nian Hua) are put on the walls.

After cleaning the house, it is time to wish farewell to the Kitchen God (Zaowang). The Kitchen God is regarded as the guardian of the family hearth. He is regarded as the inventor of fire, which is needed for cooking and is also the censor of family morals. By tradition, the Kitchen God leaves the house on the 23rd day of the last month to report to Heaven on family’s behavior. At this moment, the family will do everything possible to get a positive report from the Kitchen God. On the evening of the 23rd, the family will provide the Kitchen God a ritualistic farewell dinner with sweet foods and honey.

Away from the surveillance of the Kitchen God, who is supposed to return on the 1st day of the New Year, the family now is getting ready for the upcoming celebrations. In old China, the stores were closed on the last two or three days of the year and remained closed for the first week of the New Year. Therefore, families were busy in the last week of the old year stocking up on foods and gifts. The Chinese people tend more often to give food items as gifts, such as fruits and tea. The last days of the old year is also the time to settle accumulated debts.

On the final day of the old year, people are busy either in preparing food for the next two days, or getting tidied up for the New Year’s Day. All the foods must be prepared before the New Year’s Day, so that all sharp instruments such as knives and scissors can be put away to avoid cutting the ‘luck’ of the New Year.

On the evening of the New Year’s Eve, all members of the family will gather for the important family dinner. Even if a family member cannot attend, an empty seat will be kept to symbolize that person’s presence at the banquet. At midnight after the dinner, the younger members of the family will bow and pay their respects to their parents and elders.

On New Year’s Day, the children are given Red Envelopes (Lai-See). It is good fortune money enclosed in little red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend, it can drive away bad luck. On New Year’s Day, people wear new clothes or red clothes, and put on their best behavior. It is not allowed to tell a lie, raise the voice, use indecent words, or break anything on the first day of the new year.

From the second day onwards, people start visiting friends and relatives, bringing gifts and Lai-See for the children. Visitors will be greeted with traditional new year delicacies, such as melon seeds, flowers, fruits, tray of togetherness, and new year cakes (Niangao).

The entire first week is a time for socializing and amusement. There are many lion dances, acrobats, theatrical shows, and other entertainments. Firecrackers, which represent pushing away evil spirits, are heard throughout the first two weeks of the New Year. They are rooted in a similar ancient custom. Long ago, people in China lit bamboo stalks, believing that the crackling flames would frighten evil spirits.

The 7th day of the New Year is called "everybody’s birthday" as everyone is considered one year older since that date. In traditional China, everyone added a year to his age on New Year’s Day since individual birthday was considered less important than New Year’s date.

To mark the end of Chinese New Year celebrations, the Lantern Festival is held on the 15th day of the month. Some of the lanterns may be works of art, painted with birds, animals, flowers, zodiac signs, and scenes from legend and history. People hang glowing lanterns in temples, and carry lanterns into the streets to join in an evening parade under the light of the full moon.

In many areas, the highlight of the Lantern Festival is the Dragon Dance. The dragon, which may stretch a hundred feet long, is typically made of silk, paper, and bamboo. Traditionally, the dragon is held up by young men who dance as they guide the colorful dragon through the streets. The bobbing and weaving of the dragon is such an impressive sight, and created a remarkable end of the New Year Festival.
 
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