Chinese New Year History


It is unclear when exactly the celebration of the New Year began in China. Its celebration is said to have originated from the year end religious ceremony observed during the Shang Dynasty (1766 BC – 1122 BC). Some believe that the practice began as early as the period of Emperor Yao and Shun’s (~2300 BC) reigns. When the tradition first began, the date of the New Year celebration varied from mid-winter to early spring. However, the maturity of the solar base calendar provided Emperor Wu (157 BC – 87 BC) of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220) with a consistent means to measure a period of a year. Hence, he established the first day of the first month of the traditional Chinese calendar as the beginning of the year, and Chinese New Year remains celebrated accordingly to this day. The following is a brief list of developments in New Year celebrations at different points in history:

  • Emperor Yao and Emperor Shun (~ 2300 BC): Small scale New Year celebration type activities. Shang Dynasty (1766 BC – 1122 BC): New Year celebrations started as a result of religious observances. Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220): New Year celebrations are officially established as the first day of the first month (of the traditional Chinese calendar) and crack bamboo appeared (crack bamboo will create a loud cracking sound when set on fire. It is believed that the sound drives away evil). Wei Dynasty (220 – 265) and Jin Dynasty (265 – 420): Fireworks are used in New Year celebrations. The tradition of Shou Sui formed. Song Dynasty (960 – 1279): Origination of gun powder based fireworks .

The legend of Chinese New Year’s origin

According to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the “Year.” The “Year” looked like an ox with the head of a lion, and was believed to inhabit the sea. On the night of New Year’s Eve, the “Year” would come out to harm animals, people, and their properties. Eventually, people discovered that the “Year” feared the color red, fire, and loud sounds. Therefore, for self-protection, people formed the habits of posting red Dui Lian (refer to Chinese New Year Crafts) in front of their houses, launching fireworks, and hanging lanterns at year end.

Chinese New Year[a] is the Chinese festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar. The festival is usually referred to as the Spring Festival in mainland China,[b] and is one of several Lunar New Years in Asia. Observances traditionally take place from the evening preceding the first day of the year to the Lantern Festival, held on the 15th day of the year. The first day of Chinese New Year begins on the new moon that appears between 21 January and 20 February.[2] In 2019, the first day of the Chinese New Year was on Tuesday, 5 February, initiating the Year of the Pig.

Chinese New Year is a major holiday in Greater China and has strongly influenced lunar new year celebrations of China’s neighbouring cultures, including the Korean New Year (seol), the Tt of Vietnam, and the Losar of Tibet.[3] It is also celebrated worldwide in regions and countries with significant Overseas Chinese populations, including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia,including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia,  the Philippines, and Mauritius, as well as many in North America and Europe.

Chinese New Year is associated with several myths and customs. The festival was traditionally a time to honour deities as well as ancestors.[11] Within China, regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the New Year vary widely,[12] and the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s Day is frequently regarded as an occasion for Chinese families to gather for the annual reunion dinner. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly clean their house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for incoming good luck. Another custom is the decoration of windows and doors with red paper-cuts and couplets. Popular themes among these paper-cuts and couplets include that of good fortune or happiness, wealth, and longevity. Other activities include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red paper envelopes. For the northern regions of China, dumplings are featured prominently in meals celebrating the festival.

In Confucian and Buddhist Chinese Ethics, filial piety – is a virtue of respect for one’s parents, elders, and ancestors.

We should thank the Chinese for their respect for the elderly which is also a Filipino tradition.