6 things you should know

(CNN Spanish) — The Chinese New Year officially begins this February 1 and with it the longest and most important celebration of that calendar. A holiday that lasts 15 days and is the equivalent of combining Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. In 2022 we say goodbye to the year of the metal ox and welcome the year of the water tiger.

This is the third Chinese New Year to arrive under the shadow of the coronavirus.

For many Chinese who left their places of origin looking for job opportunities in the big cities, this is the only chance to see their families this year. Parents who left their children in the villages so they could work may face another 12 months without them.

This year, the Chinese Ministry of Transportation expects 1.18 billion trips during the Lunar New Year travel season, a 35% increase from last year, but still well below the 3 billion trips taken in 2019 before the pandemic. And across China, a growing list of local authorities is discouraging residents from traveling to curb the spread of the coronavirus, especially the highly transmissible omicron variant.

But, despite the pandemic, what exactly is the Chinese New Year? Here we explain everything you need to know about this celebration that extends to many Asian countries.

What is Chinese New Year?

Actually, this is not its official name: in China, the festivities are known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year. Precisely, they begin with the second moon after the winter solsticea date that can go from the end of January to the middle of February in the Gregorian calendar.

Nor is a single day celebrated. Chinese New Year celebrations begin on the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar and span 15 days, when the full moon arrives. It is a time when the usually families get together and they travel long distances to get home to their loved ones. A tradition that the coronavirus has threatened for two consecutive years. For many, this is the only opportunity of the year they have to return to their homes and bring bags of gifts.

Last year, Beijing’s main train station was packed with commuters ahead of the Chinese New Year, as authorities had yet to announce that the coronavirus was spread from person to person. Nor had it been admitted that it was spreading outside of Wuhan, the initial epicenter of the outbreak. Two days before the Lunar New Year, this city was placed under a total lockdown. However, millions of people in Beijing had already traveled to their hometowns before the festival began. This accelerated the spread of the virus.

As it is celebrated?

Each of the 15 days that make up the celebration it has its own traditions. On the eve of Chinese New Year, for example, families gather for dinner together. There is also the custom of staying at home to receive good fortune or visit the in-laws. In addition, money is delivered in a red envelope, called “hong bao” to children and adults without a partner. In recent years, the gift has migrated to the digital.

The tradition of launching fireworks comes from the custom of lighting bamboo stems to ward off evil spirits, such as the half-dragon, half-lion monster “Nian”, who according to legend it comes out from hiding in the Lunar New Year to attack people. But his ears are his weakness, so in ancient times people would set fire to bamboo stems to scare him. Over time this led to fireworks.

And the Lunar New Year ends with the Lantern Festival, celebrated at night with parades and displays of decorated lanterns. The main event of this day is the Dragon Dance: beautiful dragons made of paper, silk and bamboo are held on the heads and seem to dance during the parade.

However, it is likely that much of the traditions be done virtually ––or even suspended–– while the coronavirus pandemic continues. Because of this, some tourist sites offer free admission for those who are forced to spend the festivities away from their families. Also, companies launched tools for people to have a “lunar new year in the cloud,” providing everything from virtual marketplaces to conferencing tools to online dinner parties.

Why is it the year of the water tiger?

You may know about the 12-year Chinese zodiac calendar, represented by 12 different animals. But in reality, it is much more complicated. A year is not only classified by its zodiac animal. There is also a complex sexagenary cycle: a combination of one of the 10 heavenly stems and one of the 12 earthly branches.

In this cycle the sign is the tiger and the element is water.

This February 1 begins the year 4720 in the Chinese calendar.

The Year of the Tiger symbolizes strength, vitality and fortune. Holidays are a time of renewal, family gatherings, eating good food and wishing good luck.

What superstitions characterize the Chinese New Year?

The first thing is don’t take out the trash. The reason? It is said that this way you erase luck and prosperity. You also enjoy time with your family, especially your in-laws and your partner’s relatives, on the second day, which is considered the beginning of the year.

On the third day, on the contrary, it is better not to visit anyone. It’s one day prone to arguments, according to the tradition. By the seventh you will be able to celebrate.

And red is the color that can never be missing: It is associated with luck and prosperity, but is mainly used for protection purposes. (The “Nian” monster is also scared by the color red.)

Does the world’s largest migration occur on Chinese New Year?

Yes, before covid-19 put the vast majority of travel around the world on pause, the Chinese New Year was considered the largest human migration on the planet. In 2020, 3 billion trips are expected during “chunyun,” China’s busy 40-day season, which starts weeks before the Lunar New Year. the chinese do whatever it takes to see your loved ones.

Why are Chinese years identified with animals?

Chinese legend tells that Buddha summoned all the animals to meet him on New Year’s Day and named the years with the 12 animals that came. So the animals in the Chinese calendar are the dog, the pig, the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the sheep, the monkey and the rooster. Tradition also says that people born in each animal year have some personality trait of that animal.

With reporting from CNN’s Nectar Gan, Lily Lee, Maggie Hiufu Wong and David Culver.

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