It is no small wonder how billions of people in the world celebrate Lunar New Year every year. After all, we are talking about centuries-old traditions, steeped in mythology and folklore, not only surviving but thriving in the age of space exploration and artificial intelligence.

Legend once spoke of the great beast Nian, which terrorized Chinese villages long ago at the end of each year, destroying homes and taking the lives of innocent villagers. Yet, after it was discovered that loud noises and bright lights could scare the beast away, a yearly tradition was born.

Nowadays, such traditions persist in the brilliant fireworks and lively annual celebrations. Though being in winter for most of China, the Chinese New Year is popularly known as the Spring Festival in China, marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The 15-day New Year festivities kick off with a week-long holiday in China, and much like the Western New Year (Jan. 1), the biggest celebration is on New Year’s Eve.

During this time, every street, building, and home is decorated with red, the main color of the festival, which many believe represents luck. As 2021 will be a year of the Ox, many of the decorations will be related to the ox, the second animal in the Chinese zodiac, a 12-year periodic sequence of animals which appear in the Chinese calendar.

In many Chinese cities from New Year’s Day, traditional performances can be seen: dragon dances, lion dances, and imperial performances. Such performances are long-lived traditions in their own right. Chinese dragons are believed to be a symbol of China’s culture, and they represent power, dignity, fertility, wisdom and auspiciousness. In many legends, the dragon is both a fearsome creature, and a benevolent one, and it was an emblem to represent imperial authority. In the dragon dance, the movements traditionally symbolize historical roles of dragons demonstrating power and dignity.

For many Chinese families, New Year’s Eve is the most important time of the year. Everyone is expected to be home to celebrate the festival with their families by partaking in the New Year’s Eve dinner called ‘reunion dinner’, believed to be the most important meal of the year. Typically, families gather at a designated relative’s house for dinner, but increasingly, many families are spending their New Year’s Eve dinner at restaurants. Many of which, due to the occasion, require reservations months in advance.

There are also some wealthy families that hire a professional chef to come cook at their house. Chefs are often busy running from one home to another cooking dinners for different families on New Year’s Eve.

Afterwards, families typically watch the Spring Festival Gala together, one of the most watched TV shows in China.

During this time, people also exchange gifts, the most common of which are the customary red envelopes with money inside. Called “hong bao” in Mandarin, these envelopes are often only given to children or unmarried adults with no job. If you are single, working adult, you are expected to give these to your younger relatives.

Of course, at the strike of midnight come the dazzling display of fireworks. Anywhere you are on the globe, fireworks and firecrackers are launched on the first minute of the Chinese new year. From public displays in major cities to millions of private celebrations in China’s rural areas, setting off firecrackers and fireworks is part of the celebration.

Other celebrations to look forward to

Aside from New Year’s Eve, there are other important days of the 15-day Chinese New Year Festival. On the fifth day of New Year’s for instance, it is believed that the gods of prosperity come down from the heavens. People do their best to celebrate the occasion, which is called Jie Cai Ceng, or Welcoming the Gods of Wealth and Prosperity. This is a time for businesses to participate in setting off firecrackers, as they believe it will bring them prosperity and good fortune for their business.

The 15th day of the New Year is known as Yuan Xiao Jie or the Festival of Lanterns. and marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. All types of lanterns are lit throughout the streets and often poems and riddles are often written for entertainment.

There are also paper lanterns on wheels created in the form of either a rabbit or the zodiac animal of the year. The rabbit lantern symbolizes an ancient Chinese myth about a goddess named Chang’E who jumped to the moon. Anxious to travel alone, the goddess brought a rabbit with her to keep her company. It is said that if your heart is pure enough, you can see the goddess Chang’E and her rabbit on the moon on this day.

Each and every element of the Lunar New Year is imbued with traditional folklore such as this, owing to the centuries of history the tradition brings with it. As time goes on, more of these traditions will evolve and change, and only time will tell what such spectacles they will bring in the future. — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran