Happy Chinese New Year. Kung Hei Fat Choi. Gong Xi Fa Cai.
Chinese New Year is important as it is a time for reaffirming family and kinship ties. It's a time for family reunion dinners, visits to relatives and friends. All these serve to remind us of the central position occupied by the family in Chinese society. The Chinese New Year festival is so deep-rooted, it is celebrated with fanfare across the world wherever there are large Chinese communities.
Chinese New Year, pronounced in Chinese as "xin nian", always falls on the date marking the beginning of Spring and thus it is also called the "Spring Festival". "xin" means "new" and "nian" means "year". The actual date for Chinese New Year is the second new moon after the winter solstice.
2011 is the year of the Hare (Rabbit) (year 4709 on the Chinese calendar - Xin-Mao). Chinese New Years falls on 3rd February 2011. It is the 28th year of the 60 year cycle.
Celebrations start on the eve of the new moon and end 15 days later with the full moon lantern festival.
Chinese New Year celebrates the earth coming back to life when ploughing and sowing can begin, so food plays an important part. Much of the food consumed for the festival has symbolic meaning. For example, the names of some foods sound similar to characters with lucky connotations, while the shape or colour of other foods is symbolic of things such as happiness, prosperity and good fortune. Kumquat plants, which are popular presents, have little golden fruits, considered lucky.
Even though the climax of the Chinese New Year, Nian, lasts only two or three days, preparations start almost a month before. Houses are thoroughly cleaned to sweep away any bad luck, debts are repaid, hair cut and new clothes bought. Doors and window frames are repainted, usually red, and then decorated with paper scrolls. At this time of cold weather, warming foods are eaten like hot rice soup containing nuts, dried lotus seeds, red beans and dried dates. Eating rice soup is also considered to be purifying the body for the New Year.
Kitchen Gods' Day
On Kitchen Gods' Day, the 24th day of the month before, it's time to appease the kitchen gods before they head up to heaven where they report on the family's activities. Traditions include burning images of the kitchen gods to symbolise their departure - brushing honey or sugar on to their lips before burning is meant to improve your chances of their saying sweet things about you.
New Year's Eve
On New Year's Eve houses are brightly lit and families gather together for a large meal. The traditional food depends on whether you're from south China - sticky-sweet glutinous rice pudding called nian gao - or the north - steamed dumpling called jiaozi (or djiaozi). Most people stay up all night celebrating and at midnight fireworks and firecrackers are set off to frighten away evil spirits.
On the day itself, an ancient custom called Hong Bao, meaning Red Packet, takes place. Children wake up early to find the small red envelopes known as "Lai Si" or "Hong Bao" ("Lucky Money" envelope) containing sweets or money under their pillows.
Typically at Chinese New Year Lai Si is given by married couples to children and unmarried people. The red is used as the most auspicious colour, while the decoration may have a blessing or good wish. The symbolic giving of the money represents a wish for fortune and wealth in the coming year. And then the new year greetings begin: Kung Hei Fat Choi - (Cantonese) or Gong Xi Fa Cai - (Mandarin / Putonghua).
The literal translation of "Gong Xi" is "to wish" and "Fa Cai" means "to prosper". So "Gong Xi Fa Cai" means "I wish that you will be prosperous".
In China today the public holiday lasts for three days, but traditionally the festivities continue until the 15th day of the lunar month when the Lantern Festival is held. Everywhere is decorated with a variety of different sized lanterns and there is music and dancing in the streets. One special feature is the dragon dance, where a huge dragon head and body, supported by a team of dancers weaves its way around the streets collecting money from houses on its route. Once again food plays its part and yuanxioa is served. This is a sweet or savoury dumpling made from glutinous rice flour that is either boiled or fried.
Some Chinese New Year Taboos
The Chinese utilise a lot of the lucky words and signs to express their desire for good fortune and a good life. For fear their desires won't come true there are also some taboos to be observed.
During the New Year period, superstitious Chinese refrain from saying anything bad and prohibit quarrelling. It is believed that unlucky words spoken will affect the rest of the year. For instance words that sound like unlucky or undesirable events may not be spoken during the New Year's festival. Chinese avoid saying anything about death, losing money or becoming poor. In most Chinese dialects, the pronunciation of the word "four" has the same sound as the word "to die". Thus four is considered an unlucky number. People avoid saying the word "four" or using things in fours.
People believe they should neither sweep nor wash the floors and that all brooms should be hidden away.
Nothing should be disposed of until the fifth day of the lunar new year as it is symbolises throwing away wealth.
Nothing should be broken during the festive season. Breaking of articles is said results in break-up of wealth or family unity. However, if something is accidentally broken, such as a bowl or cup, Chinese people will say "sui-sui ping-an" 'which means "year after year will be safe and peaceful" at the scene because the first two characters, "sui sui", are pronounced the same as the word that means "to be broken, smashed into pieces" in Chinese.
Ceremonies are held to "welcome the gods of the heavens and earth". Lion and dragon dancing are seen everywhere to repel evil and bring good fortune.
People often choose to wear traditional Chinese clothing, such as the Chinese silk jacket, as a mark of respect for their ancestors.
We at Emmanuel Church Pok Fu Lam wish you a Happy Chinese New Year. Kung Hei Fat Choi. Gong Xi Fa Cai.
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