By Tram Panaligan
The loud firecrackers, festive dragon dances, sumptuous moon cakes, warm atmosphere of family and friends, and most of all, everyone’s favourite red envelopes. These all symbolise the beauty and splendour of the Lunar New Year. The custom has been around for thousands of years, but it did not always look the way it does today.
Legend has it that it all began with the Nian, a ferocious beast that would terrorize villagers on the New Year, eating crops, livestock, and even children. But villagers learned that this half bull and half-lion was afraid of three things: fire, noise, and the colour red (Roland, 2019). As a countermeasure—for Nian feared the colour red, loud noises, and fire—red paper decorations were pasted to doors, lanterns were open all night, and firecrackers were lit to frighten and ward off the flesh-eating beast away (Britannica, 2020).
As the years have passed, the custom of ‘sweeping the grounds’ was added—with the practice of thoroughly cleaning one’s house to remove any bad luck that might be lingering inside. Also on New Year’s day, family members receive red envelopes—called lai see—these envelopes then contained small amounts of money with the belief that it will ward off evil spirits and bring good luck, as the literal translation of lai see suggests (Britannica, 2020; Roland, 2019). The origin of the red envelopes traces back to the Sung Dynasty when a young orphan won a battle against a huge demon who was terrorizing the village of Chain-Chieu. As a reward, the village elders gave the child a red envelope full of money (Bryant, 2021).
Dances and fireworks are prevalent throughout the holidays, culminating in the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated on the last day of the New Year’s celebrations. On this night colourful lanterns light up the houses, and traditional foods such as Yuanxiao (Walnut and Almond-filled Sweet Rice Dumplings that symbolise family unity), Fa gao (cupcake-like pastry for fortune), and Yu Sheng (raw fish and vegetable salad which are tossed for prosperity) are served (Britannica, 2020).
As the world celebrates the spectacle of this year’s Lunar New Year in an unprecedented manner—as people are forced to stay indoors due to the pandemic—the Lunar New Year remains to set as our reminder that as we face the Nian of our generation, taking countermeasures to ward it off is the best thing we can do for us to soon be acquainted once more to the warm embrace of our family and friendsSharing Stories. Connecting People.
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Britannica (2020) Lunar New Year [Online]. Available at:
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Lunar-New-Year (Accessed: 26 January 2021)
Bryant, K. (2021) The History Behind Chinese New Year [Online]. Available at:
https://www.rd.com/article/history-chinese-new-year/ (Accessed: 26 January 2021)
Roland, E. (2019) The Surprising Reason Red Is the Official Color of Chinese New Year
[Online]. Available at:
https://www.rd.com/article/color-red-chinese-new-year/ (Accessed: 26 January 2021)
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