The Chinese New Year is defined as the first day of the first month on the traditional Chinese calendar, which is based on a traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar whose date indicates both the moon phase and the time of the solar year.
A lunar month is around two days shorter than a solar month. This is why, according to the solar calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year.
This legend says the beast Nian had a very big mouth that would swallow many people with one bite, which scared people. One day, an old man came to their rescue, offering to subdue Nian.
He said to Nian, ‘I hear that you are very capable, but can you swallow the other beasts of prey on earth instead of people who are by no means of your worthy opponents?’ So, it swallowed many of the beasts of prey on earth that also harassed people and their domestic animals from time to time.
After that, the old man disappeared riding the beast Nian. He turned out to be an immortal god. Now that Nian is gone and other beasts of prey were scared into forests, people began to enjoy a more peaceful life.
Before the old man left, he told people to put up red paper decorations on their windows and doors at the end of each year to scare away Nian in case it snuck back again, because red is the colour the beast feared the most.
The custom of putting up red paper and firing firecrackers to scare away Nian should it have a chance to run loose is still around. However, people today have long forgotten why they are doing all this, except that they feel the colour and the sound add to the excitement of the celebration.
From then on, the tradition of observing the conquest of Nian is carried on from generation to generation.
Chinese legend tells of Buddha, the Emperor of the Heavens, inviting all animals to share in the New Year’s celebrations – only twelve animals appeared. To reward their loyalty, Buddha named a year after each one in the order they arrived: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram/Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar/Pig.
The 2020Chinese New Year celebrates the Year of the Mouse, the first animal honored by Buddha, and in the solar calendar this officially begins on 25 January 2020.
Part 1: Preparations 准备
Some Chinese start to celebrate and prepare for New Year as early as month 12 day 8 of the lunar calendar. This is a festival called Laba.
二十三，糖瓜粘；二十四，写福字； 二十五，扫尘土；二十六，去买肉； 二十七，宰公鸡；二十八，把面发； 二十九，蒸馒头；三十晚上熬一宿；大年初一扭一扭。
A small year is the 23rd or 24th of the last month of the year. It is said that this is the day the God of Kitchen will leave the family in order to go to heaven and report on the activity of family to the Emperor of the heaven.
People will follow religious ceremonies to say farewell to the God of Kitchen, including taking down and burning the painting of the god. After New Year’s Day, people will buy new paintings of the God of Kitchen and display it in the kitchen.
1 Cleaning the House
From the 23rd of the 12th lunar month (January 20, 2017), Chinese people carry out a thorough cleaning of their houses. The cleaning is called ‘sweeping the dust’, and represents a wish to put away old things, bid farewell to the old year, and welcome the New Year.
After cleaning, people will decorate the house to welcome the New Year. Most of the decorations are red. The most popular New Year decorations are upside down fu, couplets, lanterns, year paintings, paper-cutting, door gods, etc.
◆ Affixing Door God Image 贴门神 ◆
In the beginning, door gods were made of peach wood carved into the figure of a man, hanging by the door. Later people pasted printed images on doors.
People paste door gods on doors as a prayer for blessings, longevity, health, and peace. Two door gods on double doors are thought to keep evil spirits from entering.
The door gods symbolize righteousness and power in China, therefore Chinese door gods are always scowling, holding various weapons, and ready to fight with evil spirits.
◆ Putting up Spring Couplets 贴春联 ◆
Spring couplets are paired phrases, typically of seven Chinese characters each, written on red paper in black ink, and one pasted on each side of a door frame. Sometimes a phrase of four or five characters is affixed to the top of the door frame as well.
New Year couplets are filled with best wishes. Some people write the couplets themselves, but most people buy them (ready printed) from the market. Pasting spring couplets is thought to keep evil away.
◆ Putting up New Year Paintings 贴年画 ◆
The subjects of New Year paintings are often flowers and birds, plump boys and Guanyin, golden roosters, oxen, ripe fruit and treasure, or other legends and historical stories, showing desires for bountiful harvests and a happy life.
◆ Putting up Paper Cutouts 贴窗花 ◆
In the past people pasted paper cutouts on windows facing south and north before the Spring Festival. Paper cutouts are usually diamond-shaped in lucky red, with beautiful and exaggerated patterns. They express hopes of a merry and prosperous life, in line with the Spring Festival theme.
3 New Year Shopping
People buy New Year food and snacks, New Year decorations, and clothes for the New Year before New Year’s Eve. Chinese New Year, like Christmas in China, is a major shopping time.