Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year) is the most important holiday in China and many other Asian countries. In ancient Chinese legend, there was a terrible man-eating beast called Nian that would stay hidden all year long and come out only on Chinese New Year to terrorize the villagers and devour livestock and humans alike. One year a grey-haired man came to the village and assured the townspeople that he could rid them of the vicious beast. When Nian visited that night, he was met with loud exploding firecrackers, flashes of light and red banners (because he was afraid of the color red, of course). This scared him away and began the traditions that accompany the Chinese New Year.
If you have been fortunate enough to spend time in China or with people from there, you know how deeply committed to their traditions and history they are and there is no better example of this than observance of the Chinese New Year. This holiday begins on the first day of the second new moon after the winter solstice and lasts for 15 days. It is full of lessons and mantras that can apply to anyone’s life, whether you are of Chinese-descent or not, that will serve to enhance our experiences here on Earth and shape us into better, happier people.
6 Lessons to Yield
Honor Deities and Ancestors
Whether you believe in the Christian God, Mother Earth, Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, we can all agree that there is something bigger than us and our reality, some energy in the universe that has given us life, a conscience, and the ability to make decisions. So whatever your believes are, take a moment to be grateful to those who came before you, that you were put on this earth and have the ability to shape your life the way you want. It really is a beautiful thing to think about.
CNY Traditions: Throughout the 15-day celebration, they will celebrate the birthdays of the God of Wealth, the Jade Emperor and other prominent figures in their beliefs and history. This often involves paper and food offerings, trash fires, eating dumplings, burning incense at midnight on the 8th day, and lighting candles outside house on the 15th day to guide wayward spirits home. Altars from the previous year will be burned and new ones will be built to honor ancestors for the coming year.
Rid Your Life of Ill-fortune and Welcome Good Luck
What you focus on and think about becomes your reality so open yourself up for the opportunity for good things to happen and to cleanse your life of ill-fortune. This often coincides with the western “Spring Cleaning.”
CNY Traditions: A week before the CNY, families will clean their homes from top to bottom and cook food in preparation for the new year. Then on the first day of the festivities, no brooms or knives are to be used so as to now invite ill-fortune and ‘sweep’ away good luck. Windows and doors are given a fresh coat of red paint and paper cuts are used to decorate as there are meant to bring good fortune, happiness, wealth and longevity. Doors are sealed at midnight on CNY eve to stay safe from Nian and then opened on the new morning to symbolize “opening the door of fortune.”
Honor Your Elders
There is so much to learn and gain from those who have lived longer and experienced more than us, and the Chinese people are the best at recognizing this and honoring it. Not only that but without your elders, you literally would not be where you are today… or at all. So show them some respect and gratitude for all that they offer us.
CNY Traditions: On the first day families will visit with their elders and enjoy family meals with them.
Rekindle Family Ties
Family is a huge component of the Chinese culture and if you are fortunate enough to have family and to be close with them, then be thankful for their presence and their love. These people share something no one else can with you, so it is good to remember that and honor it.
CNY Traditions: A big family reunion dinner happens on the eve of the CNY where the families will cleanse the house and cook and eat dumplings together. More family visits and dinners happen on the 1st, 2nd and 8th days of the celebration.
By giving what we can to people, we get even more in return. The simple act of generosity increases self-satisfaction and love, enhances the life of someone else who may then turn around and pay it forward creating an amazing domino-effect, tidal wave of love and compassion that rocks the world – in a good way!
CNY Traditions: On the 1st day of the new year, married couples will give red envelopes of money to the junior member of their families. This is done to suppress aging. (Win-win if you ask me!)
Out With The Old, In With The New
This is a HUGE component of the Chinese New Year and is similar to the western tradition of new years resolutions. The Chinese have the right idea. Forget the afflictions of the past year and look forward to welcome all of the AMAZING things that are going to happen in the next 365 days! That is what the new year is all about anyway, starting fresh!
CNY Traditions: Burning last year’s altars and setting up new ones for the coming year. Cleaning and cleansing the house. “Sweeping” out bad fortune and opening doors for good luck and tidings. Fresh paint and decoration in red and gold to promote prosperity and luck. Settling any disputes and monetary debts prior to the first day of the new year.
Celebrations In The US
San Fransisco, CA: Claimed to be the largest Chinese New Year celebration outside China. Includes a massive parade and festival. Other North American cities with CNY parades include: Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Mexico City, Toronto and Vancouver.
New York, NY: Lunar New Year Festival in the famed Chinatown. Includes a parade and 300,000 firecrackers.
Honolulu, HI: I included this as it is often forgotten that Hawaii has one of the largest Asian populations in the US, including it’s own Chinatown. This, of course, will be the celebration that I will be attending!