Chinese New Year Festival – Sydney 13 Feb – 1 Mar 2015
The most important holiday for Chinese around the world is undoubtedly Chinese New Year – and it all started out of fear. The centuries-old legend on the origins of the New Year celebration varies from teller to teller, but they all include a story of a terrible mythical monster who preyed on villagers. The lion-like monster’s name was Nian (年) which is also the Chinese word for “year.” The stories also all include a wise old man who counsels the villagers to ward off the evil Nian by making loud noises with drums and firecrackers and hanging red paper cutouts and scrolls on their doors because for some reason, the Nian is scared of the color red. The villagers took the old man’s advice and the Nian was conquered. On the anniversary of the date, the Chinese recognize the “passing of the Nian” known in Chinese as guo nian (过年), which is also synonymous with celebrating the New Year.
Based on the Lunar Calendar
The date of Chinese New Year changes each year as it is based on the lunar calendar. While the western Gregorian calendar is based on the earth’s orbit around the sun, China and most Asian countries use the lunar calendar based on the moon’s orbit around the earth. Chinese New Year always falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Other Asian countries such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam also celebrate new year using the lunar calendar.
While both Buddhism and Daoism have unique customs during the New Year, Chinese New Year is far older than both religions. Like many agrarian society, Chinese New Year is rooted in a celebration of spring. Depending on where rice is grown in China, the rice season lasts from roughly May to September (north China), April to October (Yangtze River Valley), or March to November (Southeast China). The New Year was likely the start of preparations for a new growing season. Spring cleaning is a common theme during this time, as many Chinese will clean out their homes during the holiday. The New Year celebration could even have been a way to break up the boredom of the long winter months in the northern hemisphere.
On this day, families travel long distances to meet and make merry. Known as the “Spring movement” or Chunyun (春运), a great migration takes place in China during this period where many travelers brave the crowds to get to their hometowns. Though the holiday is only about a week-long, traditionally it is a 15-day holiday during which firecrackers are lit, drums can be heard on the streets, red lanterns glow at night, and red paper cutouts and calligraphy hangings are hung on doors. Celebrations conclude on the 15th day with the Lantern Festival signifying new light and children are given red envelopes with money inside signifying prosperity from the new season.
Many cities around the world hold New Year parades complete with a dragon and lion dance. Food is an important component to New Year. Traditional foods include nian gao or sweet sticky rice cake and savory dumplings – which are round and symbolize never-ending wealth.
Sydney celebrates Chinese New Year with a Festival beginning with a launch on Friday, 13 February 2015. For more information see http://www.sydneychinesenewyear.com/festival-program/