Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival (春节) in China, is the most important Chinese festival, which is celebrated at the end of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. Festivities usually begin on the evening of the day before the first day and will carry on until the 15th day of the first calendar month. The first year of the New Year falls on the new moon, in between January 21st and February 20th.
The Legend of Chinese New Year – The Mythical beast Nian（年）
The mythical beast Nian is one of the most popular legends in China for the Spring Festival. The beast would eat livestock, crops, and even people on the eve of a new year. To prevent this, people would put food at their doors. The legend also suggests that an old man appeared when the villagers went into hiding and figured out that Nian was afraid of loud noises and the colour red. People would then start to put red lanterns and red scrolls on their windows and doors to try and stop Nian from coming inside, as well as wear the colour red. They would also use crackling bamboo, and later fireworks to scare away the beast. The Nian was eventually captured by Hongjun Laozu, an ancient Taoist monk, and the Nian retreated to a nearby mountain, which the name has been lost for many years.
The Shang Dynasty
The Spring Festival can be traced back 3,500 years and has evolved over the years. Many people believe that it originated in the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC). They would hold sacrificial ceremonies in honour of gods and ancestors at the beginning/end of each year.
The Zhou Dynasty
The term Nian (year) originated in the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), where it had become the norm to offer sacrifices to ancestors and gods, and to worship nature in order to bless the harvests at the end of the year.
Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD)
The date of the festival was corrected during the Han Dynasty. Celebrations such as burning bamboo to make a loud cracking sound would become more popular.
Wei and Jin Dynasties (220-420)
As well as worshiping gods and ancestors, the people would begin to entertain themselves. This would introduce customs such as families coming together to clean their houses, have dinner and stay up late on New Year’s Eve.
Tang to Qing Dynasties (618-1911)
During these times, people would start setting off fire crackers, visiting relatives and friends and eating dumpling. Overtime, these became important customs. More entertaining activities, such as watching dragon and lion dances would become popular.
Modern Day China
These days, more traditional activities aren’t as common. The holidays tend to be more entertaining, people give gifts such as wechat red pockets and overseas travel.