Guest post by Nozomi Tolworthy 雷希望, Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU) Diversity Officer 2018/19
(This article includes Chinese words and phrases with Cantonese and Mandarin pronunciations respectively)
When is Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year as it follows a traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar whose dates indicate both the phase of the moon and the time of the solar year. This coming Chinese New Year is on Tuesday 05 February 2019.
Why is 2019 the “Year of the Pig”?
Each year is represented by one of 12 Chinese Zodiac animals. 2019 is the year of the pig.
The zodiac system was originally connected with worship of animals and has existed in Chinese culture since the Qin dynasty which was around 2,000 years ago! As such, the zodiac signs play an integral part in Chinese culture. Each animal has different characteristics and meanings which is often used to determine a person’s fortune and luck for the coming year and even their compatibility with other zodiacs. This is the order they are in: rat (鼠 – syu / shǔ) ox (牛 – ngau / niú) tiger (虎 – fu / hǔ) rabbit (兔 – tou / tù) dragon (龙 – lung / lóng) snake (蛇 – se / shé) horse (马 – maa / mǎ) goat (羊 – yeung / yang) monkey (猴 – hau / hóu) rooster (鸡 – gai / jī) dog (狗 – gau / gǒu) pig (猪 – zyu / zhū)
How do people celebrate?
Chinese New Year is celebrated by more than 20% of the world. The celebrations are not limited to China. Hong Kong, Laos, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and many Asian countries celebrate Chinese New Year as a national holiday. Usually, celebrations begin on Chinese New Year Eve and can last around 15 days.
Before celebrations kick off, it is tradition for people to clean their houses thoroughly, almost like having a big ‘spring clean’. Decorations are then displayed once the house is clean. Chinese New Year is a time for family, and this is seen as the most important part of the holiday.
What do the decorations mean?
Decorations for Chinese New Year are predominantly red, as the colour red represents happiness and good fortune. Here are some popular decorations used for Chinese New Year:
Fortune (福 – fuk / fú)
Certain words are displayed during Chinese New Year. The most common is 福 meaning happiness and good fortune. It is often displayed on square red paper and put up on doors, windows and walls around homes and commercial buildings. Many like to put 福 upside down. The word for ‘upside down’ (倒 – dou / dào) is a homophone of the word for ‘here’ (到). This pun represents that good fortune is coming, or is already here.
Paper Cutting Arts (窗花 – coeng faa / chuāng huā)
福 is often incorporated into other decorations such as paper cutting arts. This is a folk craft that is usually seen on windows with the literal translation meaning ‘window flower’. The images on these decorations often include fish (a pun for blessings), grains (representing hope for a good harvest) as well as dragons and peaches (symbols from folktales and legends). The zodiac for the year is often the image on these decorations too.
Lanterns (灯笼 – dang lung / dēng lóng)
There are often different activities for each day of the Chinese New Year holidays, often including the lantern festival. Some places still release lanterns for the festival, but for environmental reasons, many people choose to simply display their lanterns at home. There are many different styles of lanterns that are displayed ranging from red spheres to dragons!
Red packets / red pocket / red envelope… There are many names for these little red gifts! But all of these 红包 (hung bau / hóng bāo) contain money. The money inside is known as 压岁钱 (aat seoi cin / yā suì qián). This translated means ‘money to anchor the year(s)’ hence it’s known as ‘lucky money’. It is tradition for elders to give them to children in hope of passing on good fortune and blessings for the year to come. Younger generations also commonly give their elders red packets as a sign of gratitude and as a blessing of longevity.
New Year’s Visits
Red packets, fruit, candy and cakes are often gifted when you go on a New Year’s visit 拜年 (bai nin / bài nián) to see friends and family. Upon giving and receiving red packets, of course one will say 新年快乐 (san nin faai lok / xīn nián kuài lè) meaning Happy New Year and another very common phrase is 恭喜发财 (kung hei fat choi / gong xǐ fā cái) meaning to ‘wish you wealth and prosperity’.
With family being at the heart of Chinese New Year, family feasts are extremely important. Families often have a large reunion for a New Year’s Eve dinner. Although every region and household will have different customs, there are often some common dishes seen on every dinner table: Spring Rolls (春卷 – ceon gyun / chūn juǎn) These are eaten to celebrate the coming of the first day of spring. They are a wish for prosperity and wealth because they look like bars of gold!
Dumplings (饺子 – gaau zi / jiǎo zi)
The word for dumplings in Chinese sound like 交子. 交 means ‘exchange’ and 子 is the midnight hours. Placed together, 交子 means the exchange between the old and the new year. By eating dumplings, you are therefore sending away the old and welcoming in the new. Dumplings are also shaped like ancient Chinese silver and gold ingots and as such, symbolise good fortune. There are steamed as well as pan-fried dumplings that are eaten during Chinese New Year.
Noodles (面 – min / miàn)
For Chinese New Year, people like to eat long noodles, also called 长寿面 (zoeng sau min / cháng shòu miàn) which means ‘longevity noodles’. The longer the noodle, the longer your life will be so you shouldn’t cut them nor bite them. Needless to say, this calls for lots of slurping!
Parades & Performances
Each holiday has its own set of activities and traditions. During Chinese New Year, there may be the releasing of lanterns for the lantern festival, firework displays and often parades that include a dragon dance or lion dance. Fireworks are set off as it is thought that the noise and lights will scare away any evil sprits. The dragon is a symbol of China, and is an important part of Chinese culture. Chinese dragons symbolise wisdom, power and wealth, and they are believed to bring good luck to people. As such, dragon dances are an important cultural activity during Chinese New Year as well as Mid-Autumn Festival.
Similarly, lion dances can be seen at many festive events from Chinese New Year to weddings. The lion is meticulously designed, with movable eyes and mouth. Each lion is operated by 2 performers, one as the head and one as the body. Lion dances often involve crowd interaction where the lion may open its mouth asking for food and the crowd are given cabbage leave to throw to the lion.
How will we celebrate at RUSU & UoR?
This year we are hoping to make Chinese New Year a campus-wide celebration. As such, we have created pin badges with 福 (fuk / fú) meaning happiness and good fortune printed on them. These will be given out to staff and students around campus in the first week of February to be worn on lanyards, jackets and backpacks alike to show your support for the celebrations and participation in the festivities on campus.
For any enquiries regarding the Chinese New Year celebrations, please feel free to contact: Nozomi Tolworthy 雷希望 RUSU Diversity Officer 2018/19 firstname.lastname@example.org or Ellie Highwood, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion (email@example.com)