Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival in China, is China’s most important traditional festival. It is also the most important celebration for families, and a week of official public holiday. Chinese New Year 2017 is on Saturday January 28 so make sure to mark your calendars.
The Chinese calendar was a complex timepiece. Its parameters were set according to the lunar phases as well as the solar solstices and equinoxes. Yin and yang, the opposing but complementary principles that make up a harmonious world, also ruled the calendar, as did the Chinese zodiac, the cycle of twelve stations or “signs” along the apparent path of the sun through the cosmos.
Each new year was marked by the characteristics of one of the 12 zodiacal animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. 2017 is a year of the Rooster according to the Chinese 12-year animal zodiac cycle.
Oracle bones inscribed with astronomical records indicate that it existed at least as early as 14th century B.C., when the Shang Dynasty was in power. The calendar’s structure wasn’t static: It was reset according to which emperor held power and varied in use according to region.
Originally tied to the lunar-solar Chinese calendar, the holiday was a time to honor household and heavenly deities as well as ancestors. It was also a time to bring family together for feasting. The ancient Chinese calendar, on which the Chinese New Year is based, functioned as a religious, dynastic and social guide.
Chinese New Year is a time for families to be together. Wherever they are, people come home to celebrate the festival with their families. More modern celebrations include watching the CCTV Gala, instant message greetings, and cyber money gifts.
The main traditional celebrations of the festival include eating reunion dinner with family, giving red envelopes, firecrackers, new clothes, and decorations. The New Year’s Eve dinner is called “reunion dinner”, and is believed to be the most important meal of the year. Big families of several generations sit around round tables and enjoy the food and time together.
Prior to the Reunion Dinner, a prayer of thanksgiving is held to mark the safe passag of the previous year. Confucianists take the opportunity to remember their ancestors, and those who had lived before them are revered. Some people do not give a Buddhist prayer due to the influence of Christianity, with a Christian prayer offered instead.
According to tales and legends, the beginning of the Chinese New Year started with a mythical beast called the Nian. Nian would eat villagers, especially children. One year, all the villagers decided to go hide from the beast. An old man appeared before the villagers went into hiding and said that he’s going to stay the night, and decided to get revenge on the Nian.
All the villagers thought he was insane. The old man put red papers up and set off firecrackers. The day after, the villagers came back to their town to see that nothing was destroyed. They assumed that the old man was a deity who came to save them.
The villagers then understood that the Nian was afraid of the color red and loud noises. When the New Year was about to come, the villagers would wear red clothes, hang red lanterns, and red spring scrolls on windows and doors. People also used firecrackers to frighten away the Nian. From then on, Nian never came to the village again. The Nian was eventually captured by Hongjun Laozu, an ancient Taoist monk. The Nian became Hongjun Laozu’s mount.
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1. Pouring Down the Fu for Luck, Happiness & Prosperity
The Chinese character “fu” means good fortune and happiness, and during Spring Festival virtually every family would paste it upside down on their doors in the hope that the word could bring blessings to their families. As to why “fu” should be placed upside down there are three interpretations.
The first interpretation has the practice of pasting “fu” during Spring Festival originate in Jiang Ziya of the Zhou Dynasty (11th Century-256 B.C.). When Jiang Ziya was made a god, his wife demanded to be made a goddess. “After I married you I was always in poverty in my life,” Lord Jiang said. “It seems you are destined to be poor. So let me appoint you as the Goddess of Poverty.”
Not knowing what being the Goddess of Poverty held in store for her, his wife was nevertheless happy about becoming a goddess. Cheerfully, she asked, “Now that I’m the Goddess of Poverty, where shall be my domain?” Jiang replied, “You are off limits wherever there is good fortune.”
When the residents got word of Jiang’s instruction, they wrote the character “fu” on paper and pasted it on the doors and windows of their houses to keep the Goddess of Poverty away. Thus pasting “fu” during the Spring Festival became a Chinese tradition.
The second interpretation ascribes the practice to Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty. One year, on the 15th of the first lunar month, Zhu went incognito on a fact-finding inspection tour. When he arrived at a town he saw people huddle together and watch a painting that poked fun at women of west Anhui refusing to have their feet bound by featuring a bare-footed woman holding a large watermelon in her arms.
The emperor, however, misconstrued the meaning of the painting, thinking that people were laughing at his wife, Empress Ma. Who came exactly from west Anhui. Returning to his palace he sent some soldiers to look into the matter. He particularly wanted to know who were those people watched and commented on the painting, and who was the painter. He also asked the soldiers to paste “fu” on the doors of those who did not join in the crowd.
Two days later, another team of soldiers arrived in town to arrest people from the houses whose doors were not marked with “fu” on charges of scoffing at the queen. Since then the Chinese have been pasting “fu” on the doors of their houses to shun trouble.
The third interpretation attributes the practice to Fu Jin, the Princes of Gong of the Qing Dynasty. Once, on the lunar New Year’s Eve, the butler of the mansion of the Prince of Gong wanted to curry favor with his master. He followed past practice and had several large “fu” written and pasted on the front gates of the warehouse and the mansion.
One of the men sent to do the pasting was illiterate and put the character upside down on the front gate of the mansion. Enraged, the prince wanted to punish the perpetrator by whipping him. The butler, who had the gift of the gab, hastened to go down on his knees and pleaded: “Your humble servant often heard people say that Your Excellency is a man of longevity and great fortune. Indeed, great fortune did arrive today; it is a good sign.”
The prince was convinced. “This is why the passers-by were saying that great fortune had arrived in the mansion of the Princess of Gong,” he thought, “Once an auspicious saying is repeated for a thousand times, my wealth could increase by 10,000 taels of gold and silver.”
He then awarded the butler and the servant who pasted the paper upside down fifty taels of silver. Since then the practice of pasting “fu” upside down during Spring Festival has become a tradition followed by both imperial aristocrats and commoners.
Send the best wishes of luck to friends and family with personalized upside down fu gifts. Get your personalized and loving gifts here!
2. Let the Door Gods Usher in Positive Things
Menshen or door gods are divine guardians of doors and gates in Chinese folk religions, used to protect against evil influences or to encourage the entrance of positive ones. In modern use, door gods are usually printed images which are pasted to paired doors.
They are usually replaced every Chinese New Year. Occasionally, they are sculpted in relief or placed as statues to either side of a door. The figures should face each other; it is considered bad luck to place them back to back. So what’s the history of the door gods, you ask?
The 10th chapter of the Chinese novel Journey to the West includes an account of the origin of door gods. In it, the Dragon King of the Jing River disguised himself as a human to outsmart the fortune teller Yuan Shoucheng. Since he was able to control the weather, he made a bet with Yuan about Chang’an’s forecast for the next day.
He was nonplussed, however, when he received an order from the Jade Emperor telling him to give the city precisely the weather Yuan had predicted. The Dragon King preferred to win the bet and disregarded the order, going to Yuan to gloat the next day. Yuan remained calm and revealed that he had known the Dragon King’s identity all along.
Moreover, since the dragon had been so arrogant as to disregard an order from the Jade Emperor, his doom would be short in coming. The dragon was shocked to see his disobedience known and immediately pleaded with Yuan to save him. Yuan let him know that the Jade Emperor would send Wei Zheng—a senior minister from the court of the Great Ancestor of the Tang (“Emperor Taizong”)—to execute him at noon the following day.
He told him his best course of action was to ask Taizong for help and, taking pity on the Dragon King, the emperor agreed to save him. In order to do so, the emperor summoned Wei Zheng to play go with him in the morning. He endeavored to keep Wei from leaving until after noon, preventing him from carrying out the Jade Emperor’s order, and was delighted when Wei grew so tired with the long game that he fell asleep.
A little while later, however, the Great Ancestor was told that a dragon’s head had fallen from the sky. Wei awoke and told him that his spirit had left his body during his nap and gone to Heaven to carry out the Jade Emperor’s order. The annoyed spirit of the Dragon King then haunted the Great Ancestor each night until his generals Qin Shubao and Yuchi Gong volunteered to stand guard at his door.
The emperor enjoyed his peaceful sleep but did not want to continue bothering his two generals. In their place, he had artists paint their portraits and paste them to the doors. This was then copied by his subjects.
So why not send friends and families their own door guards to commemorate the upcoming rooster year? Get your Chinese New Year gifts here!
3. Brightening Paths with Red Lanterns for a Brighter Future
There are many origins about the Lantern Festival. One said that it was originated from the Taoism. It is called Shangyuan Festival according to the Daoism. ‘Shang’ refers to the heaven. On the day, families should worship the Heaven Officer of Taoism and decorate the house with lanterns to get safety.
Another said it is related with a Buddhist legend. According to the legend, the fifteenth day of the first Chinese lunar month was the day that Sakyamuni defeated the demons. So to commemorate the day, lanterns should be lighted. Since the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220AD), the custom has been popular. The Emperor Hanmingdi ordered all the temples and families should light lanterns on the evening of the day. From that time on, it has a custom to light lanterns for the festival.
It is also said that in ancient times, a beautiful bird flew down from the heaven to earth. It was killed by a villager by accident. As the bird was favored by the Jade Emperor in Heaven, after knowing this, he got angry and ordered to burn the village and all the people on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Unable to bear witness, the daughter of the Jade Emperor told this message to the villagers. All the villages were anxious.
Luckily, an old man had suggested that every family hang red lanterns, set off fireworks and firecrackers on the 14th, 15th and 16th day. In this way, the Jade Emperor may thought the villages had been on fire and the villagers were burned to death. On the evening of 15th day, the Jade Emperor saw the village was ablaze and thought the people had been died. So, he didn’t order to burn the village.
From that time on, people hang lanterns, set fireworks and firecrackers on the 15th day of the first lunar month every year to celebrate the victory. Send gentle wishes and loving thoughts with personalized gifts to light their new year this 2017!
Wow! So this is a definitely a long post from us and we hope you enjoyed the legends of a few important Chinese New Year icons. From the theories of how the upside down Fu came about to the door gods as well as the red lanterns, we hope this entry has been beneficial for you.
This Chinese New Year, the year of the Fire Rooster, don’t forget to send warm wishes and offers of luck to friends and families. May the present bonds be tightened and new relationships be formed to usher in a prosperous year and further future. Send personalized gifts by Printcious.com today!
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