Written by Janesse Lau
Edited by Roshween Riar
Chinese New Year is coming, this means you are going to be expecting: lots of bright red lanterns hung on the sides of your neighbours’ house, cheesy door couplets and multi-coloured lions dancing and stunting around to the sound of loud drums.
This traditional 15-day festival where many friends and family gather together to celebrate can be found all over the world, it’s usually celebrated by the Chinese but others can celebrate too.
Chinese New Year has a history of 3,500 years. Some people believe that the Chinese New Year came from the Shang Dynasty, a Chinese dynasty from around 1600 to 1046 BC. There is a story behind this festival. Here is a famous and well-known story you might know. Thousands of years ago a monster named Nian (directly translates to “Year”) would attack villagers at the beginning of each New Year’s Eve. Things took a turn from another New Year’s Eve, a strange old man, with silver-grey hair. He was a beggar in rags, walking with a stick. A granny told the old man about the terror of the Nian monster. The old man kept cool and smoothed his beard slowly, requesting to stay one night in the old woman’s house, and he would expel the beast of prey in reward. The granny wasn’t convinced by what he said, therefore, she kept persuading the man to evacuate and leave as soon as possible. However, the old man did not change his mind. At midnight, the monster broke into the village, but it sensed the subtle change of the atmosphere: in the past, the entire village was in dead darkness, but at that time, the house in the east was filled with bright lighting. Approaching the house slowly, it finds all the doors and windows pasted with red papers and many candles lit inside the house. The beast trembled, he glared at all
those strange things. It pounced to the front door and at that exact moment, a loud cracking sound burst. The ominous Nian monster didn’t dare to come closer, the front door opened, the old man was dressed in a red gown and was roaring with laughter. The beast was frightened, it fled through the dark night. After a short while, villagers were enlightened by the truth that the red colours and bright lights were magic keys to scare away the monster. In order to celebrate the triumph over the monster, people dressed in new, fancy clothes and visited neighbours to share the joy. The news spread, and everyone commanded the ways of defending against the beast. Thus, on every New Year’s Eve, people would paste red spring couplets, light candles, and later set off fireworks to ward off all the evil spirits. The entire village and town were ablaze with lights, and people would stay up to welcome the New Year.
If you’re wondering what you should do during Chinese New Year, then why not try some of the Chinese New Year-related activities I do?
Every year, my family would gather in my grandparent’s house in Kota Marudu, usually wearing red – red (and gold) are the traditional colours of Chinese New Year, often being a symbol of luck.
The best part of Chinese New Year is clearly the food. Mandarins, oranges, dumplings… Yu Shen! (or Lau Sang, the Cantonese dialect version). Yu Shen consists of many ingredients such as salmon sashimi – the part everyone tries to steal -, vegetables, spices, seeds, oil, plum sauce, deep-fried shrimp crackers, and many more. My family gets ready long chopsticks for each person and we would mix the Yu Shen around a large bowl while screaming “恭喜发财” (Gong Xi Fa Cai), “万事如意” (Wan Shi Ru Yi), “大吉大利” (Da Ji Da Li) and “甜甜蜜蜜” (Tian Tian Mi Mi) as loud as we possibly could, as it somewhat attracts good luck and prosperity. After that, we eat the Yu Shen and it always tastes delicious. This dish is usually eaten on the seventh day of the celebration, named Human Day, as it is considered to be the birthday of ordinary, common as in Chinese folklore, it was believed that humans were created on the seventh day of the first month. There is more food that you can indulge in during Chinese New Year, and each type of Chinese New Year-related food has its own quirky suspicions to it that brings good “Huat”, another word for luck. Dumplings can give us wealth as it’s shaped similarly to gold ingots and so do tangerines, mandarins, and oranges as their beaming colour is often a symbol of luxury. Tangyuan (sweet glutinous rice balls) represent family togetherness as it’s sticky and chewy nature is interpreted as the “sticking together” of family members. Longevity noodles, basically really really long noodles, symbolize a long life.
Here are the don’ts of Chinese New Year. The don’ts are you should not eat porridge as it is often associated with poverty. You should not sweep the floor during the first two days of the festival because it can be interpreted as “sweeping away wealth”. No clothes washing (washes away good luck), no needlework (depletes wealth), no unlucky words (for example, “death” brings death) and you shouldn’t wash your hair (washes away good luck).
Red envelopes or hongbao (in Mandarin) are small red and gold packets containing money. The colour red in Chinese New Year is connected to energy, happiness and good luck. Married couples give red envelopes or hongbao to parents, single adults, and children as a symbol of good luck. When you receive a red envelope, you should say 谢谢(xie xie) which means thank you and 恭喜发财 (gōng xi fā cái). Did you know that you should never open your red envelope in front of the person who gave it to you?