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What You Need to Know About Chinese New Year

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at JCU chapter.

If you’ve been in the atrium the past few days, you may have noticed a lot of hullabaloo surrounding the Chinese New Year. You might have seen the live poetry readings, gotten your name written in Chinese/Japanese/Korean, or caught an orange from the lion in the cafeteria. To the uninitiated, the Chinese New Year can be confusing and intimidating. Luckily for you, M Rob is here to lay it all out; the Chinese New Year is one of the most interesting and fun cultural celebrations in the world, so smile, say “Gong Xi (恭喜)” and read on!

The story of 年 (nian, year)

A long time ago, there was a monster who lived in the ocean outside of a Chinese village, whose name was Nian. Once a year, Nian would awaken from his deep slumber and terrorize the village. One day, however, while terrorizing the village, Nian came across a man wearing a red tunic. Scared of the color red, Nian let out a tremendous scream. Startled, the man in the red tunic dropped the metal bucket he was carrying, and it descended down the hill, hitting many rocks in its path. The bucket made quite a racket, scaring Nian so bad that he ran away and retreated back to the ocean whence he came. From that day forward, during the new year, to scare off the arrival of Nian the monster, Chinese people decorate their communities with red, and shoot fireworks, use noisemakers, and make a racket. This is why they greet each other during this time with “Gong Xi,” meaning, literally, “Congratulations.” Does it work? Well, there have been no reported sightings of Nian in over 2500 years. You tell me if it works.

Witness the largest human migration ever recorded in human history—every single year.

Chinese New Year is not an optional or laid-back holiday. Like Christmas or Thanksgiving here, it is THE holiday, and the Chinese people are societally compelled to travel back to their hometowns to be with their families. Think that your road trip home for Thanksgiving was stressful? You have nothing on the Chinese. China is home to more than 1.3 billion people. See that .3 there? That is the entire population of the United States. Almost every Chinese person travels home for the holiday. Including travel by tourists, foreigners, and businessmen, the number of journeys this holiday is projected to be 2.9 billion, stressing the road and rail systems of China. It is very common for trains to be packed to the brim, wherein people are stuck seated with little personal space and unable to use restrooms for up to 3 days. So next time you get a leg cramp in the back of your mom’s SUV, just remind yourself that it could be worse—you could be standing in a sink for 48 hours straight.

Chinese traditions: dumplings, cleaning, and family time

The most important thing during the new year is to get home and spend time with family, pay respects to your elders, prepare for a prosperous new year. There are many symbolic foods that are eaten during this time, including dumplings, fish, and hot pot. Chinese people always do thorough spring cleaning and “squash their beefs” with each other. The holiday is treated mainly as a fresh start, a new opportunity, and another chance for good luck and prosperity.

The Year of the Monkey

Were you born in 1992? Then congratulations! It is your lucky year! Actually, it isn’t. Contrary to popular belief, in most cases, it being the year of your zodiac sign actually brings misfortune. Throughout this year, monkeys need to be careful driving or exposing themselves to sickness. While you are at it, avoid walking under ladders, breaking mirrors, or stepping on cracks. Do not lose heart though, because like the old saying goes, “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” My advice? Cross your fingers, put on your best monkey grin, and bear through this year.