New Year’s Eve and Day have always been fun for me. I love the idea of ushering in the New Year through a night of celebration that does not have the commercial overtones of Christmas. I celebrate and love Christmas as well but I feel that it should be a time of deep spiritual reflection, charity and kindness towards others rather than the materialism with which it has become associated in the modern age. New Year’s is a fun time but also represents a fresh start and a time to work on new goals and make positive changes in life. I personally do not make New Year’s resolutions as I prefer to set goals for myself regardless of the time of year, but I do perform rituals and spells to assure luck in the New Year as I feel it is very important to establish a vibe of prosperity and success as we enter a new calendar year. Over the years, I have researched the New Year’s traditions of various cultures, which do not always coincide with the January 1st New Year of the western calendar. I have found that the particular New Year’s celebration that is most heavily associated with rituals of luck and prosperity is Chinese New Year. I would like to discuss some of these traditions and rituals today.
Chinese New Year celebrations begin on the first new moon of the calendar year according to the Gregorian calendar and continue for two weeks with three official days off of work for all employees in the People’s Republic of China. It is celebrated everywhere in mainland China and throughout the Chinese diaspora. The New Year is by far the most important observance on the Chinese calendar and people travel great distances to be with family and loved ones at this time. On the traditional Chinese calendar, there is a twelve year cycle with each year corresponding to a different animal as well as a different element and each year is classified as yin or yang representing female or male energy. This information is analyzed and taken into account by Chinese astrologers and fortune tellers when compiling charts and offering life advice to clients. In 2017, Chinese New Year begins on January 28th and it is the year of the rooster. The rooster represents strength and luck in many cultures and in China it is particularly associated with chasing away potentially harmful spirits.
One of the most visible aspects of Chinese New Year celebrations is the ubiquitous use of the color red in banners, decorations and even clothing. This is due to the fact that red in Chinese folk religion is believed to ward off bad luck and evil spirits and draw in good luck. This association dates back to an ancient Chinese legend about an elderly traveling monk who arrived at a remote village around the time of the New Year and found the people to be not at all in a festive mood. In fact, they were living in a state of fear. He asked them what the problem was and they told him that there was a monster called the Nian that was terrorizing the village and not letting them live in peace. The old man confronted the Nian brandishing a red banner which caused the monster to recoil in fear. He set off firecrackers which sent the Nian running for the hills never to be seen again and the people were left to celebrate the New Year in peace. The old man credited with frightening off the Nian is Hongjun Laozu who became a venerated figure in Chinese folk religion. To this day the color red and firecrackers are fundamental parts of Chinese New Year celebrations. People often give small red envelopes filled with cash to young children at Chinese New Year as a yearly allowance. Finally, in remembrance of the story of the Nian, the festivities are kicked off by lighting large qualities of fire crackers to frighten off evil spirits and what bad luck might remain from the previous year.
In the weeks preceding the start of the festival period, it is customary for people to immaculately clean and sweep their homes to remove any bad luck that might remain from the previous year and to create a clean space to welcome good luck. During the two week celebration of the New Year, people do not sweep their home so as not to disrupt any good luck that has come into their lives and for this same reason people often have they hair cut before, and not during or immediately after, Chinese New Year. Buying new clothes also symbolizes a fresh start and sets the tone of inviting good luck and prosperity into one’s life. The weeks leading up to Chinese New Year are a time to settle old debts and put to rest arguments among friends and family members to start the New Year on clean and positive terms. On the first day of the New Year’s festivities it is a tradition to open the door to one’s home as a symbolic gesture of inviting in good luck for the coming year. Sharing food among family and friends is also an important aspect of the New Year celebration. Pork stuffed dumpling and oranges are traditionally eaten and shared in great quantities among friends as they lucky foods that symbolize wealth. The lion and dragon dances in which acrobats dance in colorful costumes depicting lions and dragons is also meant to dispel back luck and summon good fortune. The idea of setting the tone for a wealthy New Year is so central to the celebration that the traditional greeting for this time of year is “恭喜發財”(Gong Hay Faat Choy) which loosely translates to “may you grow rich.” This greeting can be heard all over the Chinese speaking world during the two week New Year celebration.
In traditional Taoist circles and among adherents to ancestor veneration, the days preceding Chinese New Year are also a time to fulfill all outstanding promises to the gods and ancestors. There is a popular belief that at this time of year the lesser gods report back to the Jade Emperor, the supreme ruler of the Celestial Kingdom, and in order to secure a favorable report and blessings and prosperity in the year to come people make abundant offerings at temples and home altars. In Chinese popular religion, the kitchen god, Zao Jun, in particular is associated with giving a report of the good and bad deeds of each household to the Jade Emperor and people often keep a paper image of him in their kitchens and before Chinese New Year offerings are made to Zao Jun and his image is burned to send him on his journey to the Celestial Kingdom and a new image is placed in the kitchen where it will keep watch throughout the year.
If you wish to bring some luck into your life for Chinese New Year, I would advise to first honor your ancestors by lighting a candle or burning some spirit money. Also eat some oranges and buy some to share with friends. Chinese dumplings would be a good choice as they symbolize wealth and also stir fried noodles which symbolize long life. The act or sharing food with loved ones is in and of itself a ritual and exercise in generosity that will be repaid many fold. Of course wearing red clothing and hanging red decorations around your home will be helpful as well in setting the tone for luck and prosperity in the New Year. These are simple ways of observing Chinese New Year that I have seen bring luck to myself and others time and time again.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I would like to comment on the fact that many cultures and faiths celebrate their New Year at different times of the year. Cambodian New Year is in April, Nowruz (Persian New Year) is in March, Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is in September and there are others. Even if we are not of these cultures and faiths, we can still approach these celebrations as a new beginning and a time to start over, break with the past and invite prosperity into our lives.
I hope you have enjoyed this post and I wish you peace, happiness and prosperity in the New Year! Gong Hay Faat Choy!