Today is Chinese New Year an ancient festival which is celebrated not only in China but around the world.
This year is the ‘Year of the Ox’ which symbolises prosperity through fortitude and hard work.
Chinese New Year is an exciting, flamboyant event. As the clock strikes midnight the firecrackers are set off making a deafening sound and colourful fireworks fill the sky. Crowds of people meet in the streets to greet each other and exchange gifts.
There are many traditions and superstitions surrounding Chinese New Year. Red envelopes (also known as ‘lucky money’) are given from married couples and the elderly to young people who are not married and young children. They are filled with money, varying from a couple of dollars to a few hundred, which is said to suppress evil spirits.
The money enclosed in the envelope must be an even number. Although you will never find $4 in one as the number 4 is considered bad luck. The number 8 however is said to be good luck so it is very common for young children to receive $8.
Fireworks are incredibly popular on Chinese New Year. It started back in ancient China when they used to fill bamboo sticks with gun powder. These were burnt to create small explosions thought to scare away evil spirits.
In modern times the firecracker has taken the place of these homemade death traps. Usually firecrackers hang from a string, wrapped in red paper, with gunpowder at the centre. Firecrackers are known for their deafening explosions which as in ancient China it is said to drive away evil spirits.
Although Firecrackers are an integral part of the New Year’s celebrations they have been known to have caused many injuries over the years, which led to the government banning the use of firecrackers for years. Incidents of blinding, people loosing body parts and other grievous bodily harm incidents are reported every year, more commonly in the New Year’s festival season.
The bans on fireworks don’t seem to last forever as many major cities across China and around the world have lifted their bans on these products. It seems that after major incidents like the deaths of 6 people and 58 others injured, governments ban firecrackers for anything up to ten years. After that they start using them again until there is another major catastrophe where people loose their lives.
A lot of the traditions surrounding the festival are about scaring or driving away evil spirits, to start afresh going into the New Year. Everything is centred on the colour red, during the 15 days of Chinese New Year. All of these traditions and symbols are used to invoke luck, happiness and prosperity for the year ahead.