The Chinese Lunar New Year, also called the Spring Festival, is the most significant of all Chinese festivals. The Lunar New Year is celebrated not only in China, but also in several other Asian countries such as South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore. The lunar calendar is a 12-year repeating cycle of the Chinese zodiac. Each year is named after one of twelve animals: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Chinese New Year for 2017 is the year of the Rooster, which began on January 28.
The Spring Festival originates from an old legend of fighting the monster called “Nian” (年兽). During the ancient Shang Dynasty (16th -17th century DC), Nian are the beasts that usually live under the sea or mountains and come out of hiding to attack people, especially children and livestock during the New Year. However, Nian are afraid of the loud noises and sensitive to the color red. For this reason, people brought out the idea of using firecrackers and decorating their houses with a red hue to expel Nian. Eventually, the festivities of Lunar New Year would come with noise such as firecrackers, dragon dances and banging drums; red elements such as a red lantern, paper cuts and red envelopes. Nowadays, the spring festival is more of a symbol of family reunion, in which people make wishes for the New Year.
The celebration of the Chinese New Year usually begins a few days before the Lunar New Year’s Eve, and lasts until the 15th day of the first lunar month. Before the lunar New Year, families need to do a whole cleanup around the house in order to eliminate bad luck and to begin a fresh new year. Similar to Christmas shopping, people also go festival shopping to decorate their house with spring couplets, paper cuts, red lanterns and so on. Traditional Chinese New Year foods includes dumplings, fish, chicken, and rice cakes (niangao), depending on different regions and cultural background.
Remarkably, the spring festival is also the largest underway population movement in the world. Approximately three billion trips are expected during the 40 days of the lunar period in China this year. These trips include people returning to their homes and the families that travel for vacation. Since the prevalence of migrant working culture, the spring festival is regularly the only time of the year that people can return to their hometowns and see their relatives. The return trips, however, are always a long journey due to the limited public transportation opportunities and overwhelming demand. Travelers have to book their trips a month ahead of time and wait a day before in the train station to make sure they can get on the train.
The celebration of Chinese New Year in America varies from person to person. This was proven when Benedictine students were asked what their plans were for the big day.
“My favorite thing of the Chinese New Year is watching the new year show with my family” said Vivian Jian, a second generation of Chinese immigrant, who studies sociology at Benedictine University. “The show usually plays some old songs from my parent’s young age. Even though I didn’t grow up in China, the songs are those my parents used to play at home when I was child. I feel a strong sense of connection with China at that moment,” said Jian.
Most Asian immigrants who engage in this culture do not celebrate the holiday as much as they use to before. As older generations age and younger generations become influenced by western-based culture, the experience of living and growing up in America allows them to gain a different view on their country of origin and culture.
“It is a bad and good thing at the same time. Once you’re more surrounded by other different cultures, the more open you would be become with. You will have more open dialogues, open different discussions with people from different wall of life. That’s a great thing,” stated Cecilia Do, a senior student at Benedictine University.
As a first generation Asian American, Cecilia’s family moved from Vietnam to American in her young age. They are a Catholic family, but still have deep ties to Vietnam.
“It’s probably best to keep a balance to have both of them because you don’t want to be so shocked in your own culture that you’re not able to accept others. But you also don’t want to not go over the background that original got you to who you are. Those traditions that have shaped through your family and representing yourself”, says Do.
Chinese Lunar New Year derives from the myth of intelligent villagers fighting off monsters. People preserve the tradition of firecrackers, red hue decorations and traditional food which has become the symbol of Chinese culture. In Chicago’s Chinatown, a series of New Year events goes on during the spring festival every year, which is a good place for individuals to recall their original culture and allows exploration for people who are interested in Chinese culture.