On 31 January millions of people all over the world will celebrate Chinese New Year. In the first of two articles examining the culture and economy of China, we take a look at the oldest and most significant of all Chinese holidays.
The festival is also known as Chinese Lunar New Year, because its date is set by the Chinese lunar calendar. It always falls on the first day of the lunar month, and festivities continue until the 15th day of the month.
Chinese New Year has its roots in the legend of the Nian, a mythical beast who would arrive each New Year to terrorise villagers, eating up crops, animals and children. According to folklore, the villagers discovered that the Nian was scared off by the colour red, as well as by fire and noise. Since then, at New Year, Chinese people have used red decorations, noisy firecrackers and fire lanterns to keep the Nian at bay.
There are lots of traditions associated with Chinese New Year, including:
- Cleaning – in the days leading up to New Year, everyone gives their house a thorough clean, to sweep out any bad luck and make room for good fortune.
- Decorations – after the big clean, houses are adorned with red decorations, such as lanterns, as well as lotus flowers, mandarins and sweets.
- Reunion dinner – on New Year’s Eve, most people have a big family dinner at home. Traditional food includes dumplings and New Year cake (nian gao, a sticky rice cake).
- Fireworks – at midnight on New Year’s Eve, fireworks are set off to welcome in the New Year and ward off evil spirits.
- Red packets – red packets or envelopes (angpau) are traditionally filled with money or treats and given to children, to bring them good fortune and good health.
- Lantern festival – on the 15th and final day of celebration, a lantern festival is held, with lanterns in the shape of animals and insects; candles are also lit in houses to guide the spirits home.
Chinese New Year is celebrated all over the world – wherever there are sizeable Chinese communities. This includes western cities such as San Francisco and London, as well as Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore. Sydney claims to have the largest celebrations outside Asia, with over 600,000 people attending the annual festivals and parades.
The Chinese years are counted in a 12-year cycle using the Chinese Zodiac (Sheng Xiao). The zodiac features 12 animals – rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Chinese New Year in 2014 will signify the start of the Year of the Horse – a sign of energy, adventure and success. People born in the Year of the Horse are attributed with being cheerful, popular and communicative.
Could the Year of the Horse – symbol of communication and successful ventures – be a great year for the translation industry in the world’s fast-growing consumer market? With business booming in China, there will undoubtedly be an increasing need for Chinese voice-overs, Chinese subtitling and Chinese translations.
In our next article we’ll look more closely at the Chinese economy, as well as how to do business successfully in China.
Xin Nian Kuai Le! Happy Chinese New Year!