2024 Lunar New Year: Embracing the Year of the Dragon: millions of individuals worldwide are actively engaged in preparations for one of the most significant festivals of the year – Lunar New Year. This celebration commemorates the onset of the lunar calendar’s first new moon.
Why the Year of the Dragon?
The Chinese zodiac calendar, though intricate, operates as a 12-year cycle featuring 12 distinct animals in the following sequence: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.
Your individual zodiac animal sign is determined by your birth year, signifying that 2024 will introduce a wave of newborn dragons. Those born in 2025 will be associated with the snake, and so forth.
Devotees maintain that the fortune of each Chinese zodiac sign is closely tied to the positions of the Tai Sui – a collective term for stellar deities believed to move in tandem with, but in the opposite direction of, Jupiter.
While various geomancy experts may interpret the data divergently, there is typically a consensus on the implications of the year for each zodiac animal based on the celestial positions.
Lighting Firecrackers and Wearing Red: Unveiling the Tradition of Nian
The Lunar New Year is adorned with numerous folk tales, and among them, the myth of “Nian” emerges as one of the most captivating. According to legend, Nian was a formidable underwater creature boasting sharp teeth and horns. Each Lunar New Year’s Eve, it would emerge from the depths and assail a nearby village.
During one such perilous encounter, as villagers sought refuge, a mysterious elderly man appeared and insisted on staying despite the impending danger.
To the villagers’ astonishment, both the old man and the village emerged unscathed. The man attributed their safety to his tactics of hanging red banners on the doors, lighting firecrackers, and donning red attire.
This narrative gives rise to the enduring Lunar New Year traditions of wearing the vibrant color red, hanging red banners, and setting off firecrackers or fireworks – customs that persist in celebration to this day.
The Lunar New Year, despite its festive and fun nature, entails a considerable amount of preparation and work. The celebrations typically span 15 days, sometimes even longer, featuring various tasks and activities throughout this period.
The commencement of the festivities occurs approximately a week before the actual new year. On the 24th day of the last lunar month (which was February 3 in 2024), people engage in the preparation of festive cakes and puddings. The significance behind this tradition lies in the phonetic similarity between the words for cakes and puddings, “gao” in Mandarin and “gou” in Cantonese, and the word for “tall.” Consuming these treats is believed to usher in growth and improvements in the upcoming year. (For those yet to prepare their own “gou,” an easy recipe for turnip cake, a beloved Lunar New Year dish, is available.)
An integral part of Lunar New Year preparations involves acknowledging the mythical creature Nian. Hanging red banners adorned with auspicious phrases and idioms (referred to as fai chun in Cantonese or chunlian in Mandarin) at home, starting with the front door, is a customary practice. These vibrant banners serve a dual purpose – warding off Nian and inviting good fortune into the household.
Not all preparations for Lunar New Year are lighthearted, as tradition dictates a significant cleanup on the 28th day of the last lunar month, falling on February 7 this year. The purpose of this extensive cleaning is to eliminate any lingering bad luck from the past year.
Interestingly, another Lunar New Year custom advises against cleaning anything until February 12 to avoid unintentionally washing away the good luck ushered in at the beginning of the new year. Similarly, there is a belief against washing or cutting hair on the first day of the new year. This caution is rooted in the Chinese character for hair, which is the initial character in the word for “prosper.” Consequently, washing or cutting hair on this day is thought to symbolize washing away one’s fortune.
Furthermore, it is recommended to refrain from purchasing footwear throughout the entire lunar month. In Cantonese, the term for shoes, “haai,” sounds similar to the words for losing and sighing. This avoidance is a precautionary measure against inadvertently inviting negativity associated with these homophones.
Lunar New Year’s Eve: The Grand Feast
On Lunar New Year’s Eve, observed on February 9 this year, families traditionally come together for a significant reunion dinner. The menu for this special occasion is meticulously crafted to feature dishes associated with good fortune. Among them are symbolic foods such as fish, where the Chinese word sounds like “surplus,” puddings representing advancement, and dishes resembling gold ingots, like dumplings, all chosen to usher in prosperity and luck for the coming year.
Lunar New Year’s Day: Family Visits and Red Packets
The initial days of the Lunar New Year, particularly the first two days, often pose a challenge to one’s endurance, appetite, and social adeptness. Many individuals embark on journeys to visit immediate family, extended relatives, and friends during this period.
Visitors come prepared with bags stocked with presents and fruits to distribute during their visits. In return, they are often showered with gifts after engaging in conversations over Lunar New Year treats.
Married individuals also partake in the tradition of giving out red packets, known as hongbao or lai see, to those who are yet to marry, including children and unmarried juniors. It is believed that these red envelopes serve as a protective measure for children by warding off malevolent spirits known as sui.