Chinese New Year ceremonies
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The celebrations of Chinese New Year stretch over 15 days and begin with preparations of up to one month prior to the start of celebration.
One Month Before
On the 24th day of the 12th month of the Chinese lunar calendar is Xiao Guo Nian (meaning "Little New Year"), which is when the festivities begin. It is believed that on this day the household deities report to Yu Huang or "Jade Emperor", the supreme ruler of Heaven and Earth. Special food offerings are provided for Zao Jun ("Kitchen God") so that he may speak well of the family. Firecrackers are lit to bid farewell to the deities and spring-cleaning begins.
The home is swept clean prior to the New Year celebrations and traditionally bamboo leaves are used in the belief that this would drive out evil spirits. It is the custom not to sweep on Lunar New Year's Day itself - lest good luck be swept away. Some even hide their brooms and sharp utensils like knives. Festive decorations and symbols such as pots of kumquat and flowers are put up to brighten up the home. Red scrolls and posters with auspicious sayings (chun lian or "spring couplets") are placed at the doorway. New clothes and an accompanying hairdo are mandatory during this period as well.
New Year's Eve
The family reunion dinner and ancestor worship are the two most important highlights of the celebrations on Chu Xi, the eve of the New Year. The New Year is traditionally ushered in at 11:00 pm but modern families, especially in Singapore, have adopted 12:00 am.
The spirits of ancestors are invited to join in the family's celebrations too. Before family members sit down to a reunion dinner, it is customary for them to worship their ancestors with an offering of food, fruits, tea and flowers. The form of worship may differ according to an individual's religion. But in traditional Chinese homes, members pray before ancestral tablets, which are believed to be the homes of the ancestors.
The reunion dinner is an annual feast when family members reaffirm the love and respect that bind them together as a unit. It is known as tuan yuan (also known as wei lu, meaning "gathering around the family hearth"). Every family member is expected to do his best to return to the family home for the dinner. Traditionally, all sons return to their parental homes for the occasion. Married daughters share the tables of their husband's families. For this meal, the best food is served - and in abundance too. This is regardless of whether the family is rich or poor, for the Chinese believe that having plenty of food during tuan yuan would bring the family great material wealth in the new year. Tuan yuan delicacies include abalone soup, chicken, mushrooms, duck, fish, chap chye ("mixed vegetables"), roast pork and steamboat.
After closing accounts for the year, traditional Chinese bosses may give bonuses to their workers. Lunar New Year's Eve is one of three days in the Chinese lunar calendar for settling debts, particularly for businessmen. This day is set aside for this purpose as it is considered a loss of face for one to start a new year with unpaid debts. The other two days for settling debts are the 5th day of the 5th lunar month (Dragon Boat Festival) and the 15th day of the 8th month (Mid-Autumn Festival).
New Year vigil
Children are encouraged to stay awake till midnight and beyond to send off the "old" year and welcome the "new". Many children do this to wish their parents a Happy New Year early in the morning. Also, some Chinese believe that the longer the children keep awake, the longer their lives or the lives of their parents. In return, the young ones get hong bao, traditional red packets containing money, before going to bed.
Welcoming God of Wealth
The more traditional Chinese offer joss sticks to welcome the God of Wealth. Many others usher in the new year by praying at temples. They consult the almanac for the most favourable hour and direction to receive this deity, usually between 11:00 pm and 6:00 am the next morning. Firecrackers are again lighted to welcome the god.
First Day (New Year's Day)
The first day of the New Year is known as Yuan Dan (also Yuan Ri, Yean Chen and Duan Ri). It is the first of 15 days marked out for visitations, with close and senior family members visited on this first day.
The second day is traditionally a time for married women to visit their maiden home and renew ties with their family. During this period, the God of Wealth is welcomed. It is known as Thoa Ya. This and the 16th day (known as Wei Ya) are the best "feast" days for employees. To employees, the Wei Ya feast is not only a sumptuous meal but also a bonus for their hard work during the year. Besides being a reward for a year of work, the bonuses are to make workers happy as grim faces are a taboo during the festival.
Known as the "Loyal Dog Day", the third day is a day of rest. No visits are made nor are visitors received, as it is believed that evil spirits roam the earth this day and it would invite bad luck to be outdoors. Thus conservative Chinese businesses do not open until after the fifth day.
The seventh day is Ren Ri or Yan-Yat (meaning "Birthday of Man", "Day of Man", "Day of Humanity" or "Everyman's Birthday"). In early times, the urban Chinese based their forecast of the country's condition for the year on this day's weather. Customs in celebrating the day vary from place to place. The people from the Fukien province are fond of preparing a special soup with seven health-promoting ingredients to counteract ill health, while those in Chekiang eat Peace Dumplings to bring peace to the country. In Singapore and Malaysia, yu sheng or "raw fish" is served.
The birthday of the Jade Emperor falls on the ninth day. The Jade Emperor is also known as Yu Huang or Yu Huang Ta Ti, identified as the God of Heaven by the majority of Chinese. He is said to have been born several millennia before our era as the offspring of the king and queen of the kingdom known as Kuang Yen Miao Yo. The people of Ch'uanchou observe the ninth day of the first lunar month as the birthday of Heaven whilst the people of Amoy observe the same day as the birthday of Yu Huang.
The 15th day marks the first full moon of the New Year. It is known as Yuan Xiao Jie, meaning "first night of the full moon" (Hokkiens call it Chap Ngor Mei, meaning "15th Night"). Another reunion dinner is held with lanterns and oranges being a large part of the celebrations. It is also referred to as Deng Jie or "Lantern Festival".
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The information in this article is valid as at 2000 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.