While the Christmas and New Year atmosphere is fading away in western world, at the other side of world, the atmosphere of Chinese lunar New Year is gradually growing, which makes me even more homesick. Chinese Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is the most important festival in China. No matter where they were for the rest of year, whenever Spring Festival comes, most Chinese will go home to celebrate it with families. There are lots of traditions and custom when Chinese celebrate Spring Festival. Due the cultural difference from North China to South China, the custom is different too. However, they share one thing in common: the red elements. Today I am going to share some interesting stories about red color in Spring Festival.
Why red? My grandmother once told me a story about it when I was little. It was said “Nian” (the pronunciation of “Year” in Chinese Language) was a very fierce beast with three heads and six claws, almost undefeated. Then accidentally people noticed that “Nian” was very scared of red color. So they used all kinds of tools associating with red color to confront it. They hang red lanterns in front of their doors, wear red clothes, put up red couplets on the doors and set off red firecrackers. Eventually “Nian” was scared away. Ever since, people celebrated the success until now, which is called “Guo Nian” in Chinese Language, meaning “to celebrate the Year”. Of course, it was just a story. The fact is that because the red color indicates the fire, which belongs to one of the Five Elements (also known as Wu Xing). In traditional Chinese philosophy of Five Elements, the fire means to flourish, to fend off the cold and to exorcise the evil spirits.
So what are the typical red elements in Spring Festival?
• Red Lanterns
The traditional red lantern was made of bamboo batten, red silk and red candles. Nowadays the red candles which are used to light up have been replaced by bulbs in modern lanterns. People usually hang their lanterns high outside of their yard doors or their balconies. Rows of red Lanterns make cold winter nights warm and charming, and brighten the roads for those who are on the way home.
• Red Couplets
The Red Couplets are also called as the Spring Couplets which are written on red color paper with black or golden color scripts. People can either purchase the couplets or prepare the red color paper and the ink, then invite someone to write. Every New Year Eve afternoon, my brother and I will put up those couplets on the sides of the yard doors and apartment doors. The content of the couplets usually express the happy and hopeful wishes for the coming year or praise the beauties of the life.
• Red envelopes
When I spent my Christmas holiday in Greece, I experienced a small group of Greek kids knocking on the door and singing carols while playing very cute triangles. Afterwards they will get some money in return. This reminds me of getting red envelopes which contain some amount of money when we give New Year Greetings to our families and relatives. Traditionally, people will stop giving out red envelopes when kids turn 13. However, my mother keeps giving me the red envelope all these years. Every morning of the first day of the New Year, the first thing I do when I wake up, I will turn over my pillow to check if my red envelope is already there. And the truth is that my mother never lets me down, although I never figure out when she puts the envelope secretly underneath my pillow all these years.
• Wear Red
2014 is the year of horse, which means people who were born in 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1942, 1930, and 1918 have their zodiac year of birth. Chinese call the zodiac year of birth as “BenMing” Year or the threshold year, which means to spend this year as to cross the threshold. Therefore, those who have their threshold year will wear “the Three Red”, namely, the red underwear, the red belt and the red socks, so that the red elements will banish the evils and bring the fortune and good luck. Is this year your threshold year? Then do not forget to wear some red!