10 Feb 2021

By Simran Kaur


Photo of Red Paper Lanterns

Source: Mentatdgt. (2018). Photo of Red Paper Lanterns. Pexels

An exhibition of lanterns is one way to describe Chinese New Year as streets and malls are fully decorated with bright red lanterns to welcome a prosperous new year ahead. Chinese New Year – or the Spring Festival – is just around the corner and many people, although still stuck at home because of Corona, are still thrilled about celebrating it. But what more is there to this festival other than its bright lights and red ang pow packets?

People Standing on Red Dragon Statue

Source: Pham, T. (2018). People Standing on Red Dragon Statue. Pexels

Nian, a horned beast said to be a hybrid of a dragon and a kirin, came out of hiding once every year from the bottom of the sea terrorising villages and feasting upon its residents. These villagers were then forced to seek protection in the mountains. Different versions of the story came to play but had always come to the conclusion that this beast was terrified of the colour red and loud noise that intimidated it. Although it’s not clear whether this beast is a part of authentic folklore or a local tradition, the wide use of the colour red and the playing of fireworks is a traditional culture held by many, still. Not only that, this is how lion dancing came to be, telling the story of Nian and his antics.

orange fruit on red and white checkered table

Source: CHUTTERSNAP. (2020). Unsplash

Not only that, but red is also associated with success, good luck, fortune, happiness and much more that is believed to scare away spirits of bad fortune. During this time, the elderly and married gifted children and the unmarried red envelopes with money inside. This tradition came to be when a demon named Sui used to come out in the late at night to terrify sleeping children. It was said that a family had given their children eight coins and red paper to play with that were actually eight fairies that protected the children. This symbolised safety and good luck, which is still one of my favourite traditions during Chinese New Year.

red chinese lanterns on red wooden door 

Source: Maud. (2020). Unsplash.

Spirits are a common belief, especially around this time, with there being much more lore about them. For example, a huge peach tree in a mountain that stretched far enough that entered the ghost world. To prevent any demise, two guards – named Shentu and Yulei – ensured that no spirits would harm anyone. From writing the two guard’s names on peach wood to replacing the wood with red paper, and the names with antithetical lines, this tradition went on as now a custom to welcome the new year ahead with the best wishes.

Another belief that involves spirits is to avoid sweeping dust out of your home during the festival, which is believed to be like sweeping away the good luck and wealth that has entered the house. The same goes with any other form of cleaning during the Chinese New Year to ensure a prosperous new year ahead.

chinese new year food, raw fish salad “yusheng”. - chinese food stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images  

Source: twomeows. n.d. Chinese new year food, raw fish salad “Yusheng”. Getty Images

What about food? Food, in general, is a life pleasure for some people, and during Chinese New Year, you are welcomed to a feast of a variety of good, delicious food such as the sweet glutinous rice cakes (nian gao), the dumplings – which represents fortune, and Malaysia’s own, Yee Sang. Yee Sang symbolises good luck, prosperity and all things auspicious. Another fan favourite is the good fortune fruits such as oranges, tangerine and more to bring happiness and luck throughout the year.