Chinese New Year History

It is unclear when exactly the celebration of the New Year began in China. Its celebration is said to have originated from the year end religious ceremony observed during the Shang Dynasty (1766 BC - 1122 BC). Some believe that the practice began as early as the period of Emperor Yao and Shun's (~2300 BC) reigns. When the tradition first began, the date of the New Year celebration varied from mid-winter to early spring. However, the maturity of the solar base calendar provided Emperor Wu (157 BC - 87 BC) of the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220) with a consistent means to measure a period of a year. Hence, he established the first day of the first month of the traditional Chinese calendar as the beginning of the year, and Chinese New Year remains celebrated accordingly to this day. The following is a brief list of developments in New Year celebrations at different points in history:

  • Emperor Yao and Emperor Shun (~ 2300 BC):
    Small scale New Year celebration type activities.
  • Shang Dynasty (1766 BC - 1122 BC):
    New Year celebrations started as a result of religious observances.
  • Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220):
    New Year celebrations are officially established as the first day of the first month (of the traditional Chinese calendar) and crack bamboo appeared (crack bamboo will create a loud cracking sound when set on fire. It is believed that the sound drives away evil).
  • Wei Dynasty (220 - 265) and Jin Dynasty (265 - 420):
    Fireworks are used in New Year celebrations. The tradition of Shou Sui formed.
  • Song Dynasty (960 - 1279):
    Origination of gun powder based fireworks .

The legend of Chinese New Year's origin

According to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the "Year." The "Year" looked like an ox with the head of a lion, and was believed to inhabit the sea. On the night of New Year's Eve, the "Year" would come out to harm animals, people, and their properties. Eventually, people discovered that the "Year" feared the color red, fire, and loud sounds. Therefore, for self-protection, people formed the habits of posting red Dui Lian (refer to Chinese New Year Crafts) in front of their houses, launching fireworks, and hanging lanterns at year end.

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