Happy Lunar New Year!
Happy Spring Festival!
This year the animal is the Tiger and the element is water.
The element comes from Daoism (also called Taoism). There are 5 elements: water, earth, wood, fire, and metal. Each element can also be represented by a color. The Ancient Chinese assigned the color black to water. The Tiger normally has the element of wood. A full Daoist cycle actually takes 60 years: all 12 animals and all 5 elements for each animal.
The Chinese actually call the Lunar New Year the Spring Festival.
The Chinese actually call the Lunar New Year the Spring Festival. This is because the new year in South China is heralded by the blossoming of peach blossoms, and represents spring and the start of the planting season. Flower viewing has been popular since antiquity and spread to Korea and Japan, although the Japanese prize cherry blossoms (sakura) over peach. In Chinese beliefs, peaches represent immortality and wisdom.
Almost all of Asia celebrates the Spring Festival, showing Imperial China’s influence throughout Asia. Each country has its own variations on the celebration, but most include the tradition of red envelopes (hong bao in Mandarin), firecrackers, and specific events.
Some New Year traditions include:
- Cleaning the house before the New Year – do not clean on the New Year or you will push luck outside of your house
- Wearing new clothing for the New Year, preferably something in red
- Do not wash your hair on the New Year – you will wash away your luck for the year
- Firecrackers to scare off bad luck and demons like Sui
- Eating dumplings and longevity noodles at the New Year Eve Family Reunion dinner
- Do not wear white or black during the New Year as these are the colors of death in Daoism and Buddhism
- Elders and married couples give red envelopes (hong bao) to unmarried and younger family and friends. Do not give 4 as the pronunciation of 4 sounds like the word for death. 8 is lucky, so denominations of 8 are most popular, like 88. It is best to get fresh, crisp currency for the red envelopes.
The Spring Festival is actually a 15 day celebration. It is tradition to return to your hometown to celebrate there. This is why Chinese factories close for 2.5 weeks. The biggest celebration is the Reunion Dinner on New Year’s Eve and concludes with a short ceremony of opening the front door, shooing out the bad luck from the previous year and welcoming in new luck.
Traditional Chinese clothing is called hanfu; thus hanbok is the Korean analog. Hanfu are not the tight, fitted dress called the chengosam or qipao. The chengosam is a modern dress created during Gunboat diplomacy as a fusion of Chinese and Western fashion. Hanfu are more loose fitting, layered robes. You can see the influence of hanfu on the Korean hanbok and Japanese kimono.
Colors mean a lot in Asia. Red is a lucky color, which is why you see so much red in Asian communities at times of celebrations including weddings. Yellow and gold is another lucky color, although it also represented royalty and the wearing of mostly yellow was reserved for the Emperor and with his permission, his family.
Wishing you all the best in the Year of the Tiger! May the New Year bring you prosperity, health, and joy.
Thank you! I. Reid