Happy Chinese New Year to readers celebrating it. You know it’s funny. Whenever it’s time to look at the new moon to decide the new fasting or end of fasting, people will bring up their Chinese calendar expert – ‘…mengikut bulan Cina, hari ani guarantee nampak anak bulan – bulan china 3 hari sudah…’ etc. Yet, nobody asked if the Chinese calendar is a lunar calendar like the Muslim, how come the Chinese New Year is always around the same date give or take a few days? Whereas the Muslim calendar, loses a couple of weeks every year compared to Gregorian Julian Calendar which we are using.
The Chinese calendar is not a pure lunar calendar. It is a lunisolar calendar, adding elements of a lunar calendar into that of a solar calendar. The Chinese solved the shortages of the few lunar days by incorporating an intercalary month every second or third year – sort of like a ‘leap month’ just like we add in the extra ‘leap day’ to make February 29 days every four years. That’s why the Chinese New Year stay fixed more or less around the same time. Unlike the Japanese calendar which has adopted the Gregorian Julian Calendar, the Chinese calendar remained intact and is used more as a cultural guide. When is the New Year? When is the most auspicious month for getting married? Or moving houses? Or travelling, etc.
Today is the first day of the year of the 豬年 (Don’t say I don’t know my Chinese). How did Chinese New Year begin? One legend talks about a beast called Nian, a man-eating beast which could swallow many people with one bite. People were very scared until one day an immortal god disguised as an old man came promising to subdue the beast. He tricked Nian into swallowing other beasts of prey and made the place safer for everyone. He told them to put up red paper decorations on their windows and doors at each year's end to scare away Nian in case it sneaked back again, because red is the colour Nian feared the most. From then on, the tradition of observing the conquest of Nian is carried on from generation to generation.
So the traditional custom of putting up red paper and firing fire-crackers to scare away Nian should it have a chance to run loose is continued. Most kids do it but they don’t know why and most people today have long forgotten why they are doing all this other than to see it as a ‘must’ for Chinese New Year celebrations.
The first celebration of the Chinese New Year probably was around the Xia Dynasty, around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago which makes the Chinese New Year celebrations one of the world’s oldest. There are a great many pantang larangs or dos and don’ts one has to comply with today. First you have to open the windows and doors to bring in good luck of the new year. You have to leave the lights on for the evening to scare away ghosts of misfortune, and be sure to taste candy so as to give you a ‘sweet new year’. Don’t buy shoes or paints, or for other reasons – do not have your hair cut; do not sweep the floor and do not talk about death or buy books on the first day of the Chinese New Year (assuming you can find a bookshop open). I don't know why. Have a Happy New Year!