Happy New Year (in February)
by Annie Lu
Happy New Year, ravens—welcome to 2018 and welcome back to CCA! The beginning of a new calendar year has many customs associated with it, from the ball drop in Times Square to kissing someone at the stroke of midnight. Not in all parts of the world, however, does the tradition of a new year fall on January 1st. East Asia (including China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Tibet, Vietnam) in specific utilizes the lunar calendar, which revolves around the changing of the phases of the moon as opposed to the earth’s orbit, causing “New Year’s Day” to fall anywhere between (and including) January 21st and February 21st. This is due to the fact that the lunar new year is defined as the new moon of the first lunar month, which changes every year. The lunar calendar loses about 11 days off the Gregorian calendar, since each lunar cycle is only about 29.5 days (compared to the full 30 or 31 for typical Gregorian months). This year, the lunar new year will fall on February 16th, so be prepared to celebrate once again in a month or so.
The New Year festival also takes on different symbolic meanings in different cultures. Chinese New Year, for one, typically focuses on the veneration of ancestors and returning home to gather with family. This rush to return to one’s hometown inaugurates one of the biggest annual human mass migrations. Additional regional customs include wrapping and eating dumplings, decorating doors and windows with red paper cutouts, lighting firecrackers, and giving red paper envelopes of money as gifts.
The mythological history of Chinese New Year comes in the form of a story about beasts and heroes: tales and legends regaled a mythical beast called the Nian, which would eat villagers, especially children. When the villagers at last became tired of this, they decided to go into hiding, but right before the fact, an old man appeared before them. He proclaimed he would stay the night and get revenge on the monster, to the skeptical responses of the villagers. The old man put up red papers and burned bamboo to make loud cracking sounds, which indeed drove off the Nian. When the villagers returned, they began to understand that the Nian was afraid of loud noises and the color red. Henceforth, around the time of the New Year, people would wear red clothes, hang red lanterns, put up red paper scrolls, and use firecrackers to frighten away the monster. Many of these traditions persist today.
These old stories provide us with advice for driving away inauspicious spirits: make loud noises; dress in bright colors; put money under your pillow. May the beginning of your new year begin on a good note!