Beginnings are one of the most celebrated folklore motifs/themes. The start of something new, whether it’s a life, a job, a relationship or a year, is all about birth, renewal, and/or starting over. Until the Gregorian calendar, the new year was linked to spring and so many of the customs associated with it are also found in today’s spring observances (Passover, Easter, etc.).
When it comes to New Year’s, the Asian community has a plethora of traditions that are designed to invite in good luck, health, and prosperity. They are also believed to be ways of warding off evil, death, and darkness.
The first day of Chinese New Year 2012 (Chun Jie / 春节 2012) will be celebrated on Monday, 23 January 2012, and the festival will usually last for as long as 15 days. The celebration is one of the longest and most celebrated holidays in the world. As with many Chinese traditions, it began with a well known folk story:
According to the legend, there was a beast named Nian who would invade Chinese villages and eat all of their crops and people, especially children. One day when Nian came to destroy a village, he was scared away by a young girl wearing a red coat. The Chinese realized that Nian was frightened by the color red and from then on they made it a point to incorporate red into their every day lives until Nian was never seen again.
Today, the color red is still a staple of Chinese culture as well as their New Year's celebration. Although the Chinese calendar is different than the western calendar, their New Year's Day is still on the first day of the first month of the year. Due to the fact that the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, it is often referred to as “The Lunar New Year”.
Families usually gather for dinner on New Year's Eve for an annual reunion. It is also customary for the Chinese to clean their homes in order to wipe away evil spirits and begin the year with a fresh slate. Families come together while eating a feast consisting of pigs, ducks, chicken, and a selection of sweet treats. In the morning, children greet their parents with positive wishes for the new year and in return, receive red envelopes filled with money. One of the most common purposes of the Chinese New Year is to forget all the misfortune of the previous year and come together to genuinely wish the best to others in the coming year.
In Japan, the New Year celebration was originally linked to the Chinese New Year. However, in 1873, they adopted the Gregorian Calendar, making the first day of January the official New Year's Day. The Japanese have a variety of food lore traditions that they practice every year. The typical Japanese New Year dinner includes boiled seaweed, fish cakes, and mashed sweet potatoes with chestnuts, burdock root, and black soybeans. Most of the other foods that are eaten during this time are usually dried or non- perishable because when the holiday was first celebrated there were no refrigerators.
The menu, however, depends on the region that the holiday is celebrated because depending on the area, there are different foods that are encouraged or even frowned upon. Soups and sushi are also common menu items, depending on the region. The days leading up to the Japanese New Year often consist of massive food preparation efforts in order to feed the large number of guests that usually come together to celebrate the New Year. A few fun traditions of the Japanese New Year include:
TET, The Vietnamese New Year is similar to the Chinese New Year, however it differs slightly due to the time change. Most Vietnamese clean their homes to rid of negative energy as well as prepare a large feast in celebration. Common activities during this time are family returning home to visit graves of ancestors or deceased loved ones, and elders giving money in red envelopes to children. The Vietnamese also decorate their homes with peach flowers, and kumquat tree, depending on the region. Food that is usually prepared during this holiday includes watermelon, pickled onion and cabbage, leaks, dried candied fruits, and meat stewed in coconut juice. It is made clear that during the New Year celebration, there are certain activities that should and should not be participated in, for example there are “Do's and Don'ts” of a Vietnamese New Year:
· One should wish well on others
· One should give lucky presents to others
· One should scatter lime powder around the house to get rid of evil spirits
· One should not do or say bad things during the New Year celebration
· One should not kill or hurt animals or plants, but instead set them free
· One should not buy or wear white clothes because it resembles funerals in Vietnam