Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is celebrated by more than 20 percent of the world. It is the most important holiday in China and for the Chinese everywhere. In China it is called chunjie (春节) or the Spring Festival. It is still very wintry, but the holiday marks the end of the coldest days. People welcome spring and what it brings with it: planting and harvesting, and new beginnings. You can also call it the new moon year, because countries like North and South Korea and Vietnam also celebrate it. The New Year festival is celebrated with certain customs and rituals and goes on for 15 days.

The celebration

Already some time before the actual turn of the year the preparations begin in the whole country. The whole house is traditionally cleaned and decorated. On the eve of the New Year festival, several generations of the family gather in the apartment, mostly in the house of the older family members. First there is a common celebration, at which chicken and fish are traditionally served. On this evening the children receive gifts of money in red envelopes. After the meal everyone sits together. From 11 pm everyone leaves the house to say goodbye to the past year. Afterwards one goes back into the house and opens windows and doors. Thus the good luck of the new year can come in. Then the fireworks begin and last until late into the night. After the fireworks you go home to keep watch on the last night of the year. A sleepless New Year's night should give the parents a long life. Every corner of the house is lit up to prevent demons from finding refuge. The first day of the new year is celebrated in the circle of the man's family. The mutual New Year's blessing is exchanged in the morning. Afterwards the unmarried family members receive gifts of money in red envelopes. After the common meal the memory of the ancestors follows. On the last day of the Chinese New Year festival, the Lantern Festival (Chinese: "Yuánxiāojié") is celebrated. People build the lanterns together and these are usually painted with zodiac signs, plants, mythical creatures, symbolic animals, riddles, etc. The elaborately manufactured lanterns are hung in front of the houses and courtyards. Also Tangyuan is eaten on this day. These are balls of sticky rice flour with a sweet filling. The families then walk through the streets together and enjoy the atmosphere. In China, the lantern symbolizes the hope for better times, success and happiness.

The Chinese New Year brings with it many customs and traditions. Some of them, Danny Xie from TÜV NORD Greater China has summarised for us.

Legend No. 1: Red lanterns and fireworks

According to tales and legends, the Chinese New Year began with a mythical animal called Nian. Nian would eat villagers, especially children. One year all the villagers decided to hide from the animal. An old man appeared before the villagers had disappeared and said that he would stay the night and take revenge on Nian. All the villagers thought he was crazy. The old man laid out red papers and set fire to firecrackers. The next day the villagers came back to their town to see that nothing had been destroyed. They assumed that the old man was a deity who came to save them. The villagers came to the conclusion that Nian was afraid of the color red and the loud noises. As the new year approached, the villagers wore red clothes, hung red lanterns and red spring rolls on windows and doors. People also used firecrackers to scare the Nian away. From then on Nian never came back to the village. Nian was finally captured by Hongjun Laozu, an old Taoist monk. Nian then retreated to a nearby mountain. The name of the mountain has been lost over the years.

Legend No. 2: New Year's Money

Legend has it that in ancient times there was a demon called "Xuan" who came out at night on the 30th of the New Year to harm children. As soon as he touched the sleeping child's forehead three times with his pale hands, the child had a high fever and spoke loud words; when the fever went away a few days later, the original bright child became unconscious and dull. To protect their children, a family forced them to play all night. They wrapped eight copper coins in red paper and the children spent the night unwrapping and rewrapping them until they fell asleep. But the couple dared not sleep and stayed with their children. In the middle of the night the demon came back. Just as he was about to touch the child's forehead with his hands, a bright light broke out on the pillow. The demon was scared and fled in panic. Later the couple told everyone about "copper money wrapped in red paper". Each household followed this method every year and the children were never hurt again. It is said that the eight copper coins were changed by the Eight Immortals to secretly protect the safety of the children. The custom of "pressing" the coins in red envelopes has also been passed down to this day.

Legend No. 3: Lantern Festival

Legend has it that in ancient times a sky swan entered the mortal world and was shot down by a hunter. The Jade Emperor, the highest god in heaven, swore to avenge the swan. He began to make plans to send a force of heavenly soldiers and generals to earth on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, with orders to burn all men and animals. But the other heavenly beings did not agree and warned the people on earth. Thus, before and after the fifteenth day of the first month, each family hung red lanterns in front of their doors and set off fireworks, giving the impression that their houses were already burning. By successfully deceiving the Jade Emperor in this way, humanity was saved from destruction. Although the story is quite fantastic, it is certain that the origins of the Lantern Festival are related to the use of fire by ancient mankind to celebrate festivals and avert catastrophes. Since the Lantern Festival is associated with offerings to the Gods and is celebrated at night, it is natural that fire would play an important role. Over time, the Lantern Festival gradually evolved into its present form. When Buddhism was introduced in the eastern Han Dynasty in China, the emperor decreed that on the full moon night of the first lunar month, lanterns were to be lit in honor of Buddha, adding further significance to the lantern festival. And according to Daoism, the Lantern Festival is associated with the original deities of Heaven and Fire, born on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month.