Lion head Chinese Fashion WeekPhoto by John Warwood

With red lanterns and firecrackers in the air, February 16 will mark the beginning of 2018’s Chinese New Year celebration. Treasured in most Asian nations, this annual festival celebrates the turn of the new year according to the lunar calendar.

Chinese New Year, otherwise known as the Lunar New Year Festival or Spring Festival, is a widely recognised event that brings about traditional customs, grand feasts, family reunions and yearly predictions about what is to come. A public holiday in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and in ‘Chinatowns’ across the globe, variations of the cherished Asian holiday can be seen almost anywhere.

HISTORY

London Chinatown – Photo by Julie Kertesz
London Chinatown – Photo by Julie Kertesz

CNY has an ancient legacy, a century-old tradition that honours ancestors, deities and spirits of the heavens and earth. According to folklore, a mythical beast called Nian (年兽) used to enter villages and destroy everything in his path. Frightened that the monster would attack again, the village decided to place food in front of their doors at the beginning of the new year to deflect Nian’s interest and prevent him from striking. One day a villager sought to take revenge on Nian, and was told by a god to hang red Chinese couplets and light firecrackers to scare him off. It was then that the villager understood the beast was terrified of the colour red.

THE LION DANCE

Chinese New Year Dragon Dance

Thus the lion dance was born. Walk around any Chinatown in any major city, particularly London or New York, and you will see a magical performance where dancers dressed in red, silver and white costumes re-enact the famous scene. Usually two dancers parade in a lion head with a trailing cloak that symbolises the body, accompanied by loud percussion, drums and props of cabbage to symbolise the very same tools Chinese villagers used those many years ago.

THE COLOUR RED

Firecrackers Chinese New Year
Photo by Bryan Thompson

In addition, the colour red has long been associated with the festival for its prosperous qualities. Doors are covered in red posters with painted calligraphy and tables are decorated in crimson hues. Moreover, elder family members pass younger ones a red envelope (红包), as a form of blessing for the challenges in the coming year.

Regional customs also include the ritual of spring cleaning. New clothes and special baths in green pomelo leaves are all acts that are used to cleanse and keep ill fortune at bay to make way for good luck. Spending quality time with family and eating a large dinner is another event that one is never allowed to miss.

THE CHINESE ZODIAC

Street food Chinese New Year
Photo by Stanley Cheng

Talk to any Chinese person and they will know their own Chinese zodiac sign. Similar to how the Western world has horoscopes, Chinese mythology tells the story of 12 animals that famously raced across a river whereby the result was in the following order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

Each year as the lunar calendar changes as does the succession of the animal. The place of each animal determines who will have an fortunate year and who will not. 2018 marks the year of the Dog, so to those born in the years 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006 or 2018, good luck and happy new year. Otherwise written as as: 新年快乐小羊祝好运

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