The Chinese New Year is now popularly known as the Spring Festival because it starts at the beginning of spring . The beginning of spring is usually around the forth or fifth of Feburary. It’s origins are too old to be traced but several explanations have been presented. All agree that the word Nian, now chinese for year, was originally the name of a monster that started to prey on people the night before the beginning of the new year. One legend goes that the monster had an enormous mouth that could swallow a great amount of people in one bite. One day, an old man came to their rescue, offering to subdue Nian.
He said to the monster,”I hear say that you are very capable, but can you swallow other beast of prey on earth instead of people who by no means of your worthy opponents? ” So Nian went off and swallowed many of the beast of prey on earth that also harrassed people and their domestic animals. After that, the old man disappeared riding Nian. The old man turned out to be an immortal god and before he left, he told the people to put red paper decorations on their windows and doors at each year’s end to scare away Nian in case it sneaked back again, because red is the color the beast feared the most.
From then on, the tradition of observing the conquest of Nian has been carried on from generation to generation. The custom of putting up red paper and firing fire-crackers to scare away Nian is still around. However, people today have long forgotten why they are doing all this, except that they feel that the color and the sound add to the excitement of the celebration. Even though the cilmax of the Chinese New Year, Nian, lasts only two or three days including the New Year’s eve, the New Year’s celebration extends from the mid-twelfth month of the previous year to the middle of the first month of the new year.
A month before new years is a good time for business. People will pour out their money to buy presents, decorations, food and clothing. The transportation department, railroad in particular, is nervously waiting for the crowds of travelers who take their days off around New Year to go back home for a family reunion from all parts of the country. Days before the New Year, every family is busy cleaning their homes, hoping to sweep away all the ill-fortune there may have been in the family to make way for the wishful in-coming good luck. People also give their doors and window panes a fresh coat of red paint.
They decorate thier doors and windows with couplets with the very popular theme of “happiness”, “wealth”, “longivity”, and “satisfactory marriage with more children”. Paintings of the same theme are hung inside the house. The eve of the New Year is carefully planned. At dinner, one the most popular dish is jiaozi, dumplings boiled in water. “Jiaozi” in chinese means, “to sleep together and have sons”, a good wish for a family. After dinner, the whole family stays up and play cards or a board game. Every light in the house is susposed to be kept on the whole night.
At midnight, the whole sky will be lit up by fireworks. Early the next morning the children recieve gifts of money wrapped in red paper from thier parents. The family then goes out greeting relatives and neighbors. During and several days after New Year’s day people are visiting eachother so they exchange alot of gifts. Although many of the people who celebrate Chinese New Year have long since forgotten it’s original meaning, it remains one of the most culturally rich celebrations around today. In many ways it is like our Christmas, Forth of July, and New Years all rolled into one.