By Dilana Rosario, Grade 7
The Chinese New Year has been celebrated for more than 3,500 years. It is believed that this celebration originated from the Shang Dynasty. The Shang Dynasty lasted from 1600 to 1046 BC. Emperor Huangdi is believed to have created the Chinese New Year after creating a new calendar. He believed that ancestor worship should be included in these festivities. It became a custom to start the farming season with the New Year.
Celebrations during this time included sacrifices – to honor the gods and ancestors of the Chinese people. They usually made sacrifices at the beginning or end of a new year. According to the Chinese lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year signals the beginning of spring or a new year. Chinese New Year is mostly based on the moon. This is why we also call it the Lunar New Year. “Luna” is an old latin name meaning moon. Lichun is another old name meaning “Early Spring.”
People often use Lunar New Year and Chinese New Year interchangeably even though they have separate dates. Lunar New Year is based on the lunar calendar, while Chinese New Year only depends on the moon. It is also based on the longitude of the sun and the phases of the moon. From ancient legends, historians have learned that the Jade Emperor commanded that animals would become part of the calendar. The 12 who arrived first would be selected. At the time, the cat and the rat were good friends.
Today, the Chinese, and other East Asian peoples, celebrate by putting up decorations, eating reunion dinners with family on New Year’s Eve, launching fireworks or firecrackers, giving red envelopes with money and other gifts, and watching the lion and dragon dances. Staying awake with family throughout the celebration is believed to delay aging.
Our Lady of Fatima student Wen Chen says, “The reunion dinner is important because it brings the family together. Foods around the world vary depending on the region. In the North, they eat more wheat products, and in the South, they eat more rice products.” Fireworks are used to scare away evil spirits and celebrate the coming of a new year. Red symbolizes luck and prosperity, so it is tradition to give red envelopes to one’s family and friends. Wen Chen also says, “The elders give kids money because it shows that they are proud of the kids’ accomplishments.”
Lastly, celebrants watch people dance in lion and dragon costumes because dragons and lions represent strength, stability, superiority, power, boldness, and excellence. These costumes are also used to scare away evil spirits and bring prosperity. This 15-day festival occurs between January 21 and February 20. It usually lasts until the following full moon and is much enjoyed worldwide.