Thursday, February 07, 2008

1st day of the CNY

The first day of the Chinese New Year is known as Yuan Dan.

The first day is for welcoming the deities of the heavens and earth. It is a day for offerings to ancestors are shared among members of the family. This ceremony is normally held in the home of an elder member of the family.

During these visits, married adults are required to give red packets to junior members of the family, mostly children and teenagers as a form of blessing. Exchanging of mandarin oranges signify well-wishes for the New Year. Generally two or sometimes even number of oranges is presented at each visit.

Visiting your elders is a must on the first day of Chinese New Year, but children have an excuse to devour traditional New Year goodies such as the sweet sticky “Nian Gao”, which is believed to help children grow taller as its name is similar in sound as the Chinese word for tall.

It is also an auspicious day for family portraits.

Many people, especially Buddhists, abstain from meat consumption on the first day because it is believed that this will ensure longevity for them. Some consider lighting fires and using knives to be bad luck on New Year's Day, so all food to be consumed is cooked the day before.

Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time when families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended family, usually their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents on the paternal side.

Some families invite lion dance troupes as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Lunar New Year. The lion dance is also believed to evict bad spirits from the premises.

One of the big No-No during the first day of Chinese New Year is sweeping the floor. Woe betides the reckless that ignore this rule as they will “sweep” away all their good fortune for the year. Other forbidden practices include arguing, swearing or scolding.

Breaking plates or bowls is also considered bad fortune but if an accident should occur, you can ward off bad luck by quickly shouting “Luo Di Kai Hua” which loosely translated means “flower on the floor”, symbolizing bearing fruit.

Everybody wears new clothes on the first day, from the latest Italian shoes to those pyjamas you bought at the discount store; carefully stored new garments purchased the previous year are taken out today. Red is always in fashion at this time of the year and black is conscientiously minimized or avoided altogether as it is the color of mourning.

Firecrackers are used to drive away the evil demon “Nian”. A popular folk tale has it that this monster would rise at this time of the year and terrorize the people, leaving death and famine in his wake. The great flash of fire and explosions terrified the monster, which then fled. The widespread use of firecrackers and red decorations is to simulate the fire and exploding bamboo poles.

While fireworks and firecrackers are traditionally very popular, some regions have banned them due to concerns over fire hazards, which have resulted in increased number of fires around New Years and challenged municipal fire departments' work capacity.

For this reason, various city governments issued bans over fireworks and firecrackers in certain parts of the city. As a substitute, large-scale fireworks have been launched by governments in cities to offer citizens the experience of scaring away the demon.