Barely 22 days have passed since the beginning of the new year and again we had a chance to welcome the New Year, Chinese one to be exact, also known as a lunar year. It was a nice coincidence to be here in Asia at this time. The Chinese New Year began on January 23 and ushered in the year of the dragon according to the Chinese zodiac. We learned from one of the comments from Ania’s friend, Daga, that the year of the dragon will bring a lot of positive energy and encourage making important decisions. As for the number of the new year there are at least two versions, 2012 (Gregorian calendar, also followed in Asia) and 4709, meaning the number of years passed since the Yellow Emperor, Huangdi.
The beginning of the Chinese year is not a fixed date in relation to our calendar. It falls in the period between January and February. It is so because the Chinese year is shorter than the universal calendar by around 11 days. To even it out every few years 13th month is added and that is how it goes. Welcoming the New Year is the biggest holiday in Asia. It starts about a week prior to the end with general cleaning and ends on 15th day of the new year with the festival of the lanterns.
Asians are quite superstitious. It can be well observed during the New Year celebrations. There is a strong belief that what happens on the New Year’s Day affects the rest of the year. On this day you are not supposed to wash hair, clean the house, greet people in mourning, lend or borrow money, use number 4 or drop chop sticks on the floor. Interestingly at midnight all doors and windows are opened to let everything that belongs to the previous year out. Walking Vietnamese streets in this period you can see many people burning some papers in pots. At a closer look, the burning heap includes some golden and red papers, pieces of old clothes and fake money.
This ritual is meant to ensure prosperity for and from the deceased. Quite a few New Year’s rites relate to the dead. According to the local beliefs the spirits of the ancestors are responsible for the happiness of future generations. Today we also learned that it is common in Vietnam to commemorate in a celebratory fashion the following funeral anniversaries of the family members.
Another peculiar custom is giving each other “lucky money” in red envelopes called lee see. It is best to give it in twos, for happiness comes in pairs.
On the New Year’s Day you are expected to don new clothes, ideally red, golden or orange. These colors signify happiness and wealth. Returning to the hotel I came across a group of teenagers walking around dressed as Buddha and his entourage. Their coming was announced by loud drum beats. They would visit each house and business and perform a rite looking like scaring off the evil spirits. In return they would receive red envelopes with lucky money as well.
There is so much going on around the Chinese New Year that I could devote many a post to this topic. Concluding let me also mention the decoration of houses with trees symbolizing the spring and New Year cookies ni gao.
Obviously the coming of the New Year at midnight is marked with loud show of fireworks, which are meant to scare off the evil spirits just like the red color.
The least pleasant tradition is raising prices in this period, sometimes as much as 100%
Happy New, Chinese Year to all of you!