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The Origin of Chinese New Year: Driving the Monster Nian Away and Welcome the New Year

Wow, can you believe that? It is nearly the end of 2012 and 2013 is just around the corner! Is it me or is the time running faster away than before?

Today I am going to share with you the coming festival which is the biggest occasion in China – the Chinese New Year. During this time most of the cities in China will witness a big decline in residency while the countryside welcomes its children back home and becomes lively.

By now you may wonder, when is the holiday and how long will it last?

Traditionally the Chinese New Year starts from either December 8th or 23rd till January 15th in Lunar Calendar depending on the areas. In the northern part of China the New Year usually starts from December 8th while in the south it starts a few days later at 23rd.
During this time there are three big days: December 29th, 除夕 (Chuxi, the Chinese New Year’s Eve); January 1st, the New Year’s Day and January 15th, 元宵节 (Yuanxiao Festival – the Lantern Festival).

In the year of 2012, Chuxi (December 29th in Lunar Calendar) is dated at 2013.02.09.

Usually the Chuxi takes place at around mid-February in the normal calendar – i.e. the Western, Gregorian Calendar ;-P

Chuxi is the last day of the year after which comes the first day of the New Year. On this day people are happy to relax at home with their families, feasting on delicious festive food and playing around. Food plays a very important role in Chinese culture: in the northern part of China people usually make 饺子 (Jiaozi), a kind of dumplings while in the South people from different places make different dishes. 年糕 (Niangao, a cake made of rice), 粽子 (Zongzi, a pudding-shaped cake also made of rice) and 汤圆 (Tangyuan, sweet rice dumplings) are all traditional festive food in the south of China.

On Chuxi day people will stay up all night to welcome the new day. In Chinese there is a special term for it: “守年” (Shou Nian) – literally translated it means “to defend against Nian”.

But why?

To understand it, you first have to understand the term “New Year” in Chinese: 新年 (Xin Nian). 新 (Xin) means “new” and 年 (Nian) means “year”.

If “Nian” means “year” then why should people defend against it on the New Year’s Eva?

This takes us back to the remote times in history when the human civilization was not so well developed.

It is said that in ancient times, there was a scary and fierce monster living in the deep forest. People called it “Nian”. It was ferocious with a hideous appearance. It fed on animals and changed its prey every time. All living creatures from a worm to the human beings became its victims. People were super scared of it and could not fight it back. Gradually people learned that it only went to the human inhabitancy every 365 days for a change of taste. Moreover, it only haunted during night and left back to the forest the minute the rooster started crowing.

Understanding the pattern of the Nian, people started calling the frightening night when the Nian came to prey 年关 (Nian Guan) – the barrier preventing people from living because of the Nian – and came up with a way to spend their last-day-to-be: during the daytime people started preparing a rich dinner, put out the fire which they used to cook, gathered the fowl, closed doors and had their 年夜饭 (Nian Ye Fan – the Dinner before the night when the Nian comes). People couldn’t tell if they were going to survive the night so they would make the dinner especially rich, as if it was their last. And then all the family members gathered together to enjoy the feast after offering sacrifices to their ancestors wishing for their blessings. After the dinner nobody dared to sleep. They stayed together talking till the morning came.

As time passes by the term “年” lost its original meaning and became the meaning for “year” the way we know and use it today. But the custom of 守年 (Shou Nian) stayed with the people.

Tomorrow is the Chinese New Year's Eve. What is your plan for dinner?

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