Happy New Year of the Water Dragon! Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái. Gōng hè xīn xǐ!
Today is the third day of the Spring festivities and I’m naturally still in a special mood. All shops play Jingle Bells (!) and Gonxi Facai on end and burn firecrackers at any given time of the day. Well, they are experts at pyrotechnics, since these folks invented the skyrockets in the 7th century. I guess they need the ammunition to scare Nián away every year.
Below is a breakdown of the Chinese Spring Festival’s 15-day agenda, again based on Wikipedia’s entry on the Spring Festival:
Day 1: Most importantly, it is a time to honor one’s elders and families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended families: parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
It is also the time to welcome the deities of the heavens and earth, officially beginning at midnight. Many people, especially Buddhists, abstain from meat on the first day because it is believed that this will ensure longevity for them. Some consider cleaning, lighting fires and using knives to be bad luck on New Year’s Day, so all food to be consumed is cooked the days before.
Some families may invite a lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Chinese New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises. Members of the family who are married also give red envelopes containing cash to junior members of the family, mostly children and teenagers. Business managers also give bonuses through red envelopes to employees for good luck and wealth.
Day 2: Known as kāinián (开年, “beginning of the year”), was when married daughters visited their birth parents, relatives and close friends. (Traditionally, married daughters didn’t have the opportunity to visit their birth families frequently.)
It is also the God of Wealth’s birthday. During the days of imperial China, “beggars and other unemployed people circulate[d] from family to family, carrying a picture [of the God of Wealth] shouting, “Cai Shen dao!” [The God of Wealth has come!].” Householders would respond with “lucky money” to reward the messengers. Business people of the Cantonese dialect group will hold a ‘Hoi Nin’ prayer to start their business on the 2nd day of Chinese New Year so they will be blessed with good luck and prosperity in their business for the year.
Some believe that the second day is also the birthday of all dogs and remember them with special treats.
Day 3: The third day is known as Chìkǒu (赤口), directly translated as “red mouth” or Chìgǒu, which means “the God of Blazing Wrath” (熛怒之神). It is generally accepted that it is not a good day to socialize or visit your relatives and friends. Many visit the temple of the God of Wealth and have one’s future told.
Day 4: In those communities that celebrate Chinese New Year for only two or three days, the fourth day is when corporate “spring dinners” kick off and business returns to normal.
Day 5: In northern Mainland China, people eat jiǎozi (饺子), or dumplings on the morning of Pòwǔ (破五). It is also common in China that on the 5th day people will shoot off firecrackers in the attempt to get Guan Yu’s attention, thus ensuring his favor and good fortune for the new year.
Day 7: Traditionally known as Rénrì (人日, the common man’s birthday), the day when everyone grows one year older. For many Chinese Buddhists, this is another day to avoid meat, the seventh day commemorating the birth of Sakra, lord of the devas in Buddhist cosmology who is analogous to the Jade Emperor.
Day 8: Another family dinner is held to celebrate the eve of the birth of the Jade Emperor. However, everybody should be back to work by the eighth day. All government agencies and business will stop celebrating by the eighth day. Store owners will host a lunch/dinner with their employees, thanking their employees for the work they have done for the whole year.
Day 10: The Jade Emperor’s party is also celebrated on this day.
Day 13: On the 13th day people will eat pure vegetarian food to clean out their stomach due to consuming too much food over the last two weeks.
This day is dedicated to the General Guan Yu, also known as the Chinese God of War. He represents loyalty, strength, truth, and justice.
Almost every organization and business in China will pray to Guan Yu on this day. Before his life ended, Guan Yu had won over one hundred battles and that is a goal that all businesses in China want to accomplish. In a way, people look at him as the God of Wealth or the God of Success.
Day 15: Often marks the end of the New Year celebrations. Yuánxiāojié (元宵节), aka Shàngyuánjié (上元节) or the Lantern Festival. People eat rice dumplings (汤圆 tāngyuán) and a sweet glutinous rice ball brewed in a soup. Candles are lit outside houses as a way to guide wayward spirits home. Families walk the street carrying lighted lanterns.