CNY info from Uncle Ken

I lifted the following from Uncle Ken’s latest newsletter (him and Estelle have ‘retired’ in Malaysia).

We are now in the midst of Chinese New Year. Astrologers historically devised the lunar calendar near 300 B.C. during the rule of Emperor Yao for farmers to know when to plant crops and harvest them. Based on the phases of the moon, the Chinese New Year occurs between winter and spring. It is usually during mid-January to mid-February. Celebrated by Chinese around the world, the festivities are celebrated for 3 days by most city folk, but as a whole, is celebrated for 15 days. According to legends a monster threatening the Yellow River civilization disliked noise, light and the color red. The beast fled when lion dancers performed to the beat of drums and gongs, homes were lit brightly and many objects were painted red. Houses usually receive a spring cleaning and at least the front and back are painted. Debts are settled so as to prepare the beginning of the new year.

[…] The lion dance is usually performed in homes and business premises during Chinese New Year. As noted above, the origins of the lion dance are linked closely to the origins of the Chinese New Year celebrations. It is said that in ancient times, a mythological creature known as Nian terrorized China and devoured people on the eve of the new year. The only animal that managed to wound this beast was the lion. So, in an attempt to frighten the beast, the villagers decided to mimic the lion with lions made of cloth. The dance is believed to usher good fortune and ward off evil spirits.

The lion dance calls for perfect co-ordination, elegance and nerves of steel. Two dancers are needed to give life to a “lion” – one to control the movements of the head, eyes and mouth; the other to act as the body. The first dancer that controls the head determines the movements, while the second must work in tandem with him. This is not a simple task as the lion’s head, which is brilliantly adorned with feathers, fur and glitter, weighs from 20 to 35 pounds, a considerably heavy burden to hold aloft while moving vigorously. The head is constructed of paper mache and bamboo, complete with eyes that blink and a mouth that snaps.

[…]

It has been interesting taking our early morning and late afternoon walks around our neighborhood and witnessing all the special things going on. Offerings of candy, honey and sticky rice cake were made to the kitchen god so that he would say sweet things about the family in heaven. On New Year’s Eve, all family members, including those away from home, gathered for the annual reunion dinner. […] It is the practice of elders and married couples to give children and the unmarried “ang pow” – little red packets containing money. […]

There are lots of taboos and superstitions. Meals served on the first day are generally vegetarian as serving meat of slaughtered animals is considered bad luck. The use of knives and scissors would mean cutting off good luck, just as the use of brooms would mean sweeping away the good luck. White items are shunned as white denotes bereavement.

The second day the families gather to “open the new year.” This is usually the time in Malaysia where Chinese bosses will give bonuses out to all employees.

The third day is called the “Squabble Day” and is said that if one visits a friend on this day, one would quarrel or squabble with the person during this year.

According to tradition, the god of wealth, is welcomed into the household on the fifth day so as to ensure good fortune all year round. The seventh day is said to be the day that mankind was created and is deemed “everybody’s birthday.” The eighth and ninth days are devoted to the worship of the god of heaven and the jade emperor. Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy, is also prayed to on these days and also the 15th day. The New Year celebrations culminate on the 15th day with shang yuan jie, the Taoist festival that honors the lords of heaven, earth and water.