The 15-day New Year celebration is truly is unlike any holiday celebrated in the world, both in terms of longevity and widespread significance. Rooted in mythology, the holiday’s Chinese name, Chūn Jié, actually literally translates to the Spring Festival, as it marks the beginning of the season on the traditional Chinese calendar. As the story goes, a vicious lion-dragon-ox beast known as the Nian would emerge from the mountains (or sea depending on region) on the first day of the New Year (Spring) and devour livestock, crops and its favorite morsel, children. People would set out food in hopes of sating the monster’s appetite and protecting themselves, until one year the beast was frightened away by a child in red. As word spread that the Nian feared the color red, traditions of putting out red lanterns and coils, shooting red fireworks and wearing decorative red clothing began.
Celebrated continuously for somewhere between 4648 and 4709 years depending on whom you ask, the cultural importance of the Chinese New Year permeates practically every socioeconomic level in numerous Asian countries. There are countless traditions: from firecrackers, to exchanging gifts, to festive clothing, to reunion dinners, floral displays and the famous Lantern Festival rife with parades on the final night.
People of all classes take weeks of vacation to travel to enjoy the traditional dinner with family on the festival eve. Prayers are offered to Cai Shen Ye and Che Kung, Chinese and Taoist gods of prosperity and luck. Fireworks are so heavily employed they have been banned in many urban areas. Lanterns adorn parades of people dressed as dragons and lions as they perform traditional dances and make loud noises through the street on the final night as their ancestors once did to ward off the Nian.
Perhaps most important, though, is the significance placed on family ties during this holiday season. More so than any, this is a festival during which families are brought together, a year past and year to come are celebrated and, as a Chinese proverb states, all things are reborn.
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