1.) “Happy Chinese New Year”
Among the 1.2 billion Native Chinese Speakers in the world (Chinese language reference at Ethnologue (16th ed, 2009) , FEW would actually use the phrase “CHINESE NEW YEAR” to greet/resemble the celebration. The “Chinese” new year phrase is very much a “western” product to facilitate racial profiling, capitalising on the celebration of Spring Festival. If same logics were to be applied to similiar celebrations for other cultures/ethincs, you will have the following celebrations
– Happy Malay / Arab New Year for Maal Hijrah
– Happy Indian / Tamil New Year for Ponggal or equivalent for other races
– Happy Kadazan / Dusun New Year for Kaamatan or Gawai
– Happy Caucasian New Year for 1st of January
– Happy Japanese New year for 1st of January
which doesn’t make sense.
How do Chinese Native speakers then refer to this celebration/ festival as?
1.) 春节快乐 – Happy Spring Festival
2.) 农历新年 – Happy Peasantry/Farmer Calendric New year (Note that the Calender that chinese uses places emphasis on the 24 节气 or 24 seggregation/categorization of “seasons” which is the point of reference for our ancestors (Mainly peasantry farmers) pertaining farming.
3.) 阴历新年 － Happy Lunar New Year
4.) 新春快乐 － Happy New/Arrival of the Spring
5.) 年节 － Festival of “year”/Nian
6.) 过年 － “Passing” of the “Year”/ “nian”
none, literally, of the chinese / mandarin / verbal / lingual connotation of the festival would have anything to do with the “Race”. the chinese’s 5000 years old ancestry root that celebrate this festival probably didn’t even know that they are called “Chinese”.
I think this is why we have to resume to the proper name of the festival. I would urge everyone to use the greeting of
HAPPY SPRING FESTIVAL. it means the same thing to chinese people, and it becomes less “racially exclusive”. The Koreans celebrates the spring festival too on the same day as the chinese. you don’t greet them “Happy Korean New Year” right 🙂
2.) The history on the “DATE”of “Spring Festival”.
First, your average Chinese- Malaysian friend will tell you that the Spring Festival starts on the 1st day of the Lunar Calendar used by ancient Chinese. Whilst it is true today, that wasn’t really the case in the past.
in “Shang 商” Dynasty, the “celebration of Spring Festival/new year” was on the first day of ” la 腊 “ month (12th month) , which is the month before current “first month”.
in Zhou 周 and Qin 秦 Dynasty, the celebration of new year was on the first day of the 10th month and 11th month respectively.
It is not until the Han 汗 Dynasty that the Celebration of New year / spring festival was celebrated on the 1st day of the “YUAN” month, or the “First month”. this is reflecting the concept of 行夏之時 – Xing Xia period by the Confusianists. this date was carried on for all dynasties until today.
3.) The GREAT CONFUSION on the “Celebration of Spring Festival” and the story of “Rituals of Fire crackers and wearing Red”
If you call up a Chinese Malaysian friend, and ask them the “History of Celebrating the Spring Festival”, they will tell you the story of “NIAN Monster”.
The story of Nian goes like this : Every Winter-Spring, a monster by the name of “Nian” (now resemble “year”) comes out from the mountain/forest/jungle to kill/eat/destroy villagers and their properties. The villagers in China were so fearful of the Nian Monsters but none knows what to do about it. One day, when the Nian Monster attacked a village, one villager hit the wok with a spoon and the monster was frigthened by it. They also realize that the monster is afraid of RED colour stuffs. villagers then gathered to hit and make noise, including firing fire crackers to chase the Nian Monster away, at the sametime decorated everything in RED to scare the monsters further. after which, the elder would give the younger money 压岁钱 as “blessings” for surviving the monster attack, and young would stay awake throughout the night to “protect” the elders against the attack of “monsters” 守岁 . and of course, wearing brilliant and bright red.
however, this story is NOT the story of the celebration of Spring Festival. This is just the story/origin of the “playing fire crackers” and “wearing red colour stuff”.
The real story of Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year is VERY DULL AND DRY AND BORING. you can skip this part if you’re expecting something juicy or alluring. However if you wish to know more abotu the chinese culture on this festive season, read on :
Whilst it’s very hard to ascertain the real origin of the celerbation, Archeologist and Historians deduced that the celebration started during the Yin Shang dynastic period “殷商时期” (based on Si Ma Qian’s SHI JI 司馬遷. 《史记·殷本纪》）around 3700 years ago. It was the celebration to offer prayers to Deities, signifying the end and the beginning of the year “岁末年头祭神”, and prayers to the ancestors “祭祖活动（臘祭)”. The earliest legend of the celebration started since the time of “Yao Shun” 尧舜, who is on of the greatest general after the Yellow Emperor (黄帝） who is the first ancestor of the Han/Chinese race/ethnic. in the “Er Ya Shi Tian”, 《爾雅·釋天》, it is said that the celebration of a “year” periodic was named differently in different dynasty, and the “YEAR” word that we use today, which is “NIAN”, was used in the “ZHOU” 周 dynasty. “夏曰歲 in XIA dynasty, it’s called “SHUI”，商曰祀 in SHANG Dynasty, it’s called “SHI”，周曰年 in ZHOU Dynasty, its called “NIAN”。
Earlier Chinese Scripture of the word “NIAN”/Spring Festival/Year has the image (pictograph) of “ripe paddy”, which connotes the celebration of “harvest”. in the “Shuo Wen Zi JIe” or the record of explanation of Ancient Chinese word, it says that the word “Year/NIAN” means the ripen of Crops “《说文解字》：“年，谷熟也。从禾千声。”
Therefore, do not be confused by the story of NIAN monster and the story of Spring Festival Celebration. the logical deduction is, Chinese people celebrated the Spring Festival WAY WAY WAY before the appearance of the NIAN MONSTER story, or if it’s real, the NIAN MONSTER. the Nian Monster gave rise to the ritual of Celebrating Spring Festival through lighting up fire crackers, and wearing red, but it doesn’t explain the origin of the celebration of almost 4000 years old.
4.) ANG PAU? or the Red Packet.
The Story of Ang Pau is rather straight foward and simple : blessings from elderly to the younger through the giving of money sealed in red packet. there are many sayings and presumptions on how the traditions on this red packet are to be practiced, IE only the married are to give, and unmarried one to receive.
however, please be mindful that majority of the 1.5billion mandarin speakers don’t know what “Ang Pau” means. Ang Pau is the Hokkien word for “red packet”.
Among South East Asia Mandarin speakers, it’s called “Hong2 Bao1红包 ”
but in China and Mainland, it’s called “Ya1 Sui4 qian2 压岁钱 “,
in Hong Kong or Among the Cantonese, its called “Lai See ” 利事
Hokkien people call it “Ang Pau”.
The wide use of the word “ANG PAU” in Malaysia among other alternatives of the Red Packet is mainly attributed to the early infusion and assimiliation of the Peranakans in Melaka and Penang, who are mainly HOKKIENS. the Cantoneses Hakkas and others don’t call it “Ang Pau”. only the Hokkiens and Malays and None Mandarin / Dialect speaking Chinese in Malaysia (Bananas).
5.) Do you actually know what is the meaning of “Gong Xi Fa Chai (Mandarin)”, “Gong Hei Fat Choy (Cantonese)”, “Giong Hi Huat Chai (Hokkien)” etc? 恭喜发财 。
it literally means “Congratulation and Make more Money”. I think the Chinese might be the only ehtnic in this world that use the greeting of “make more money” as the primary greetings during the New Year / Spring celebration. Imagine during 1st January, westerner greet each other “Happy New Year! Make More money!” LOl. very uniquely chinese indeed I must say.
6.) the song “Gong Xi Ni’ 恭喜 恭喜 恭喜你 was not originally a New Year/ Spring Festival Song. It’s a Song commemorating Japanese Surrender post World War Two.
he song gong xi gong xi gong xi ni has nothing to do with spring festival or Chinese new year. ORIGINAL LYRICS was composed by 民国歌仙 陈歌辛 (a notable composer during min guo era , chen ge xian) in 1945 to commemorate the end of second sin o – Japanese war (WW2). it is only later on, that songstress Yao Li姚莉 and her brother, amended the second phase and fourth phase, which was ORIGINALLY written as WARFARE PROPAGANDA, into the chinese new year friendly ‘winter gone and spring came” phase. it was sang by the siblings without any heavy drums or percussions. just light music with only Guitar as accompaniment.
7.) The “Human” birthday on the 7th day of the new year
Many Chinese still celebrates the 7th day of new year as “human day”, signifying the day in which Human being were created by 女娲 Nu Wa the goddess. (note that the chinese believes on creationism was really really really mild – almost near none believe, unlike the Abrahamic followers’ believe on God’s creation of men).
Legend has it that Nu Wa first created Chicken on the First day, Dog on the second day, Pig on the Third day, Sheep on the Fourth day, Cow on the Fifth day, and Horse on the Sixth day. On the Seventh day, she created Mankind. Therefore Chinese people would celebrate the Seventh day as “Human day” and greet each other “HAPPY BIRTHDAY”.
8.) Birthday of the Jade Emperor on the 9th day, and why you see the Hokkiens people burn their sugar Cane
Legend also has it that the 9th day of the New year is the birthday of the Jade Emperor, or 天公诞 / heavenly birthday. Mainland China would make prayers to the Jade Emperor in temple, while the HOKKIENS people would pray to the Jade Emperor with “Sugar Cane”.
Why Sugar Cane?
in Ming and Qing Dynasty, the Hokkien territories were always subjected to invasion by the Wo Kou倭寇 (Japanese Pirates). ever since the Ming Dynasties, Wo Kou / Japanese Pirates invade the Hokkien territories shores constantly.
in one particular year around 1500 ++, the Japanese Pirates launched a large scale invasion into the Hokkien Province. The Ming Court sent a large troop of army to fight off these pirates. Rest of the civilians and peasants ran off and hide inside a Sugar Cane forest and hide the for the night, from the first day of New Year until the 9th day. On the 9th day, the pirates were defeated and only then the civilians went back to celebrate their new year (hence, “little new year”). they also made this day the “birthday of Jade Emperor”, being the Patron Deity that they prayed for safe and security. As such, every 9th day of the new year, Hokkiens would prepare sumptious offerings and sugar cane to the Jade Emperor as gratitude for his blessings.
I hope this few points gave you a rather deeper and different understanding about the Spring Festival 🙂 it is afterall a celebration of 4000 years old and modifications / twisting of traiditons are inevitable. Nevertheless, the preservation of it’s spirit and essence for such long years deserve due recognition by the celebrators to it’s detail and history.
HAPPY SPRING FESTIVAL, and MAKE MORE MONEY (GONG XI FA CHAI)!!
Tai Zee Kin