The Year of the Tiger- Lunar New Year

Andrew+Hou+on+Pixabay

Andrew Hou on Pixabay

Siha Park, Contributor

As places around the world are getting more diverse, we are able to explore deeper into other people’s cultures. One annual event a lot of people celebrate is New Year. It wouldn’t be surprising that other cultures would celebrate New Years in a special way, and the Chinese culture, with over 3,000 years of history, is not an exception.

How Did Lunar New Year Start?

There once was a monster that had sharp teeth and horns. It isolated itself in the dark sea until the new year came. Its name was Nian. When Nian was onshore, it went to the villages to hunt people and livestock. Because of the monster, the villagers would escape to the remote mountains every New Year’s Eve, hoping to avoid it.

One year, the villagers took in a strange old beggar man while they were preparing to escape to the mountains. He had silver hair and bright eyes. A granny with a house in the east visited the beggar to bring him food and to advise him to take refuge in the mountains with them. Instead of deciding to go with the villagers, he requested one night in the granny’s house in exchange for expelling the beast away. The granny kept trying to convince him, failing and escaped alone.

That night, the Nian broke into the village. As it went into the village, it noticed something was different from the last new year. Usually, every house would be quiet and dark, but a house in the east had lights on from the inside. The monster approached the house. It had red paper pasted onto its doors and windows. Inside of the house, there were many lit candles. Filled with rage and irritation, the monster swooped to the front door. As it approached, it heard loud cracking sounds bursting from the courtyard, which acted as a signal for the monster to not take one step closer towards the house. Suddenly, the front door opened, revealing a laughing beggar, dressed in a red gown. Frightened, the monster ran away.

The next day, the villagers returned to see the village look like it had before they left. They found out that the sound of bamboo burning, the color red, and bright light scares away the Nian. Now, on every New Year’s Eve, people paste red paper, light candles, burn bamboos, and set off fireworks to ward off evil spirits.

You can celebrate Lunar New Year by new year decorations or New Year’s Eve dinner. More traditional ways are with firecrackers and fireworks. Other ways to celebrate could be with red envelopes or dragon dances.

There can be other reasons why Lunar New Year is celebrated. For instance, one could celebrate it to worship their ancestors. With its cultural and historic significance, I don’t see a reason it wouldn’t be celebrated. Another reason could be to remove the bad and the old to welcome the new and the good. Or, it could be the simple reason of celebrating a new year.

The Traditional Chinese Calendar

The Spring Festival, or the Lunar New Year, happens on February first this year. Why? The traditional Chinese calendar is different from the Gregorian calendar that modern China uses. The traditional calendar identifies years, months, and days according to astronomy. The lunisolar calendar is mainly used to track birthdays and Chinese holidays. The traditional calendar usually gets a 13th month added to their calendar once about every three years. Each month starts with the new moons. The first month marks the start of the new year cycle.

The Chinese Zodiacs

Every new year is given an animal. For example, 2021 was the year of the ox, indicating that anyone born in 2021 would have the ox as their representative animal. There are 12 animals in total, meaning that if you have the same representative animal as someone younger than you, that would mean you are 12, 24, or any multiple of 12 years older than them.

 

There is a legend of how the animals’ order was determined. It started when the Jade Emperor, an important god in traditional Chinese religion, invited all the animals in the world to take part in a race. The reward for turning up to the race was having a year in the zodiac with the animals’ name. The race would determine the order the animals would be in. Twelve animals showed up to the race: a pig, dog, rooster, monkey, sheep, horse, snake, dragon, rabbit, tiger, ox, and a rat. To finish the race, the animals had to cross a huge river. The rat convinced the ox to let it sit on their head while the ox crossed, but instead of thanking the ox, it ran to first place. The ox followed, and was the second animal.

The third animal to finish was the tiger, which was sent off course because of the river’s current. The animal after the tiger was the rabbit, which crossed the river by riding a floating log. The mythical creature, the dragon, finished in fifth place after extinguishing a fire and blowing the rabbit to shore.

The horse though it would be in sixth place, right after the dragon. The snake, however had other thoughts. It wrapped itself around the horse’s leg until the finish line was near, and scared the horse, taking sixth place and leaving the horse with seventh place. The sheep, monkey, and rooster piloted a small raft across the river together. They took eighth ninth, and tenth place, with the sheep being fastest, and the rooster being slowest.

While the dog was playing in the river, the pig was eating and fell asleep. It woke up and made it over the line in last place just in time. There was another animal, the cat, who was supposed to participate in the race. It asked the rat, its friend, to wake it up before the race. The rat was too excited for the race and forgot about the cat.

There are many myths surrounding the New Year, each explaining the story of why or how something came to be. The Lunar New Year marks the beginning of the year based off of the traditional Chinese calendar. Although it starts on February first in the Gregorian calendar, it is still something you could celebrate.