The Lunar New Year Begins: Year of the Pig

Last Tuesday, February 5, the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, was brought in with the celebration of the pig! The Chinese New Year is a public holiday for anyone to partake in. However, the Chinese celebrate this holiday with an abundance of pride and have been doing so for the past 3,000-plus years.

Historians are unsure when exactly the first Chinese New Year was celebrated, but it is believed to have originated during the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600-1050 BC). There are also various stories and myths surrounding how the festivals started. According to China Highlights, “One of the most popular is about the mythical beast Nian, who ate livestock, crops, and even people on the eve of a new year.” People tried to stop Nian from attacking them and destroying their villages by hiding or trying to escape to the mountains. One night, a man realized Nian was afraid of loud noises and the color red. From then on, people decorated their villages with red during the day, wore bright red clothing, and burned/cracked bamboo late in the night after they feasted. The story of how the people scared off Nian varies depending on the source, but it’s very interesting how Nian’s name is structured from the Chinese character 年 (Nián), which means year! People also attribute the Chinese Lion Dance to this story. You can find the full story here.

The origination of the holiday also stems from the cycle of the seasons in earlier times. Travel China Guide states, “People attributed their food, clothes and harvest to the god and ancestor’s will, so they held sacrificial ceremonies to pray for blessing and peace at the end of each year.” The Zhou Dynasty (ca. 1050-256 BC) established traditional practices of worship for the beginning of farming work in the spring. The Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) stressed the importance of celebrating life and fixed the date for the start of the festival. The date would be the first month in the Chinese Lunar calendar, and bamboo cracking later developed into firecrackers/fireworks. During the Wei and Jin Dynasties (220-420 AD) new activities were added as well as new festival looks.

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A New Year Painting from Shanghai Xiaojiaochang

 

Moving forward to the Tang Dynasty (618-096), Song dynasty (960-1279), and Qing Dynasty (r. 1644-1911): there came a shift toward entertainment that includes dances and lantern shows, as well as a better development of firecrackers. People eventually began to be more social by visiting friends and relatives and giving gifts. China Highlights explains, “In 1912, the government decided to abolish Chinese New Year and the lunar calendar, but adopted the Gregorian calendar instead and made January 1 the official start of the new year. After 1949, Chinese New Year was renamed as the Spring Festival. It was listed as a nationwide public holiday.” Today you can see people continuing generational traditions with food preparations, money given to kids in red envelopes, dances and songs, lanterns, and prayers over the course of 15 days.

When it comes to the zodiac, the pig is the last of the twelve animals. There are also several stories on how the pig became the last one during the competition. One well-known story is of how the pig knew he was slow and heavy, and so he arrived at the competition line early to start his journey. According to Your Chinese Astrology, “The pig met many obstacles on the long journey; it exerted all its strength and crawled up to the Heavenly Southern Gate. The competition was over and the pig struggled to beg, other domestic animals also pleaded for it.” The Jade Emperor was so moved he let the pig in, and he became the last of the zodiac.

If you want to know about the pig and it’s personality, career, love life, and more, check out this website.

There are many websites available to teach you more about your zodiac and the other animals! However, in relation to 2019 specifically, the pig has an abundance of fortune and luck in store! The festivities aren’t over yet, so go out and enjoy yourself with friends and family.

新年快乐 (Xīan Nián Kuài Lè) Happy New Year!