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The Origins of Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year Facts


Few parties have been going as long as this one; find out about the origins of Chinese New Year, why people let off fireworks and about the monstrous Nian.

1. It’s believed that the first Chinese New Year celebrations took place at least as far back as the 14th century BC, possibly earlier, making it the world’s longest running, annual party.

2. While the celebrations then would have varied from province to province and village to village, it is in the Han Dynasty(206BC-AD 25) that most of today’s modern celebrations and rituals have their roots.

3. According to legend, the origins of Chinese New Year rest in the battle against the Nian, a nasty and apparently hungry beast that ate livestock and children. Nian is the Chinese word for year.

4. To keep the Nian’s nose out of their chicken coops and cradles, villagers were told to wear red clothes, hang red signs and make lots of noise – three traditions of Chinese New Year.

5. Fireworks and firecrackers are traditional weapons against the Nian and widely used over the holiday.

6. Guo Nian, meaning the ‘passing of the beast’ is a traditional New Year greeting, although Kung Hei Fat Choy (Cantonese) or Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin) meaning may you be prosperous are more common.

7. Far more accurate but far less interesting, the real history behind Chinese New Year lies in the celebration of the end of winter and welcoming spring.

8. The official name of the Chinese New Year holiday in China is actually Spring festival.

9. While Buddhists and Taoists have certain rituals they will follow during Chinese New Year, the celebration is not directly related to either of these religions.

10. The party poopers at China’s communist party headquarters tried to suppress the celebration in the 50’s and 60’s, wary of its ties to Imperial times, superstitions and religion. They failed and by the 80’s everyone was on the firecrackers again.

Take a look at our Chinese New Year superstitions to find out how these ancient origins translate into red underwear and opening windows.  

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