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Before , During & After Chinese New Year - How to Celebrate

In the Hokkien dialect, Chap Goh Meh simply means "the 15th night of Chinese New Year".


Chinese New Year celebration doesn't just begin on the actual day by itself. In fact, Pre-CNY preparations and small scale events already begin few weeks before Chinese New Year and ends after 15th / 16th day of Chinese New Year.

This article is written for western folks and new generation Chinese folks (English Educated Oversea Chinese) who have lost touch with their own traditional culture, in order to share a brief information about the events happening before, during and after Chinese New Year.

Winter Solstice Festival (冬至- Dong Zhi)

22nd December Gregorian Calendar

The traditional East Asian calendars divide a year into 24 solar terms. Dong Zhi (冬至) is the 22nd solar term, and marks the winter solstice.

Dong Zhi Festival was originally celebrated as an end-of-harvest festival. Dong Zhi is now celebrated as a time for the family to get together.

In Southern China and Oversea Chinese (mostly Southern Chinese), one activity is the making and eating of Tang Yuan (汤圆) - Balls of glutinous rice, which symbolizes reunion.



In northern China, people typically eat dumplings on Dong Zhi.



Dong Zhi Festival usually falls on 21 December (22 December East Asia time) of the Gregorian Calendar.

After Dong Zhi, it is time to start count down to Chinese New Year.

La Ba Festival (腊八节 - La Ba Jie)

8th Day Of The 12th Lunar Month



Falls on the 8th day of the 12th lunar month, La Ba Festival was originally an occasion for people to give sacrifices to their ancestors, and to pray to heaven and earth for a good harvest and good luck for the family. Many years later, it has become a La-Ba Congee eating event - a porridge that contains different types of rice, beans, dried nuts, bean curd, and meat.

In Northeast China, Northwest China and Jiang-Nan, this custom has been preserved, but it has become rarer in Southern China. Oversea Chinese (mostly Southern Chinese) rarely or never celebrate and younger generation never heard of this festival.


The La Ba Festival (腊八节) had not been on a fixed day until the Southern and Northern dynasties, when it was influenced by Buddhism and got a fixed time on the 8th day of 12th lunar month, which was also the enlightenment day of the Buddha.

La Ba Festival (腊八节) corresponds directly to the Japanese Rohatsu (臘八) and the South Asian Bodhi Day.

Siddhārtha Gautama (the Buddha) once attempted to find the right path to awakening by starving himself. One day, when he was starved and weakened, he met a village girl who gave him milk and rice pudding (congee) and he regained back his health. He attained enlightenment not long after that incident. The Laba congee is thus sometimes referred to as "Buddha congee" to remember this incident and Buddha's enlightenment.

Wei Ya (尾牙) - Thanksgiving Prayer

16th Day Of The 12th Lunar Month

Wei Ya (尾牙) is a traditional annual celebration for the Chinese Earth God - Tu Di Gong (土地公), also known as, Fu De Zheng Shen (福德正神) - The grand-pa god of wealth and merit.

Fu De Zheng Shen (福德正神) 

Ya(牙) Prayer is bi-monthly (every 2nd day & 16th day of Chinese Lunar Month) prayer offering to honor Tu Di Gong (土地公). Chinese bosses (Southern Chinese & Oversea Chinese) pray to Tu Di Gong for business success.


Through out the year, Ya(牙) Prayer is small scale (prayer offering on the altar) but at the end of year, on the last Ya Prayer, known as Wei Ya (尾牙) , will be major prayer. Employers / Bosses will treat their employees to a banquet to thank them for their hard work throughout the year.

Sending off Kitchen God (送灶神 - Song Zao Shen) & other Earth Bound Deities (地界神)

23rd / 24th day of the 12th lunar month

On the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, Kitchen God returns to Heaven to report the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor. Jade Emperor rewards & punishes a family based on Zao Jun (灶君) yearly report.

Kitchen God (灶神)

A small piece of Nian Gao (年糕) - Sweet sticky brown pastry made from glutinous rice, is pasted on the image of the Kitchen god (灶君,灶神) before sending him off to the Celestial court in Heaven. It is believed that doing so ensure that the Kitchen God gives a favorable report on the household.

Officials or Royal Families will do prayer to send off Kitchen God on 23rd day of the 12th lunar month.

Ordinary folks send off Kitchen God on 24th day of the 12th lunar month.

On the 24th, Chinese folks will also do prayer to send off other Earth Bound Deities (地界神) to heaven as well. Earth Bound Deities (地界神) mean Deities who stay on earth to protect, bless and help the mortals on their daily activities.

Welcoming Great Jade Empower for Inspection (玉皇大帝巡视人间)

25th day of the 12th lunar month

The 25th of the 12th lunar month is the legendary day when the Jade Emperor descends and inspects the human world. Taoist Priests and Pure / Orthodox Taoists welcome Great Jade Emperor by burning incense and reciting scriptures in the Temples.



Note: Praying to Great Jade Emperor  on this day is an important event for Taoist Priests and Pure / Orthodox Taoists. Modern days common Chinese folks often ignore this event, or never  know about this event.

Spring Cleaning For Chinese New Year

Traditionally, Hokkien Folks in China start Spring Cleaning between 16th of 12th Lunar Month and 23rd of 12th Lunar Month (Before sending off Kitchen God on 24th Of 12th Lunar Month). The reason is to let the Kitchen God be clean before going up to Heaven to do his report, if not, later he might "bad mouth" about them at the Heaven Court.

Taiwan folks start Spring Cleaning after 24th of 12th Lunar Month, after sending off  Deities to heaven. Their reasoning is that as a form of respect, they make sure the deities have left the altars then they move and clean the altar.

Nowadays, the common practice is 24th of 12th Lunar Month will send off deities,  and then on 26th will begin spring cleaning.

Some folks who are very particular about the proper timing will consult the Chinese Almanac, “Old Yellow Calender" - 老黄历, or seek help from a Chinese Fortune Teller, Feng Shui Master, Taoist Master, Taoist Sorcerer to find out when is the auspicious day  for  him / her (each individual has own lucky and unlucky time / day) to start spring cleaning (or conflicting day the person should not start spring cleaning).

Spring Cleaning shall end on 29th day of 12th Lunar Month. 30th day is Chinese New Year Eve and Chinese Folks already begin celebration with reunion dinner.

Descending of Lord of North Dipper & Lord of South Dipper to Earth for Inspection (南北斗星君下凡注福厄)

29th of 12th Lunar Month

In Taoist Culture, 1 Day before the Eve of Chinese New Year, is considered as the Inspection Day of Lord of  North Dipper & Lord Of South Dipper (南北斗星君).

Lord  South Dipper | Lord North Dipper 

On 25th Day of Lunar 12 Month, Heavenly Supreme Emperor Yu Huang (玉皇大天尊) has made his Inspection on the Mortal World. Lord Of North Dipper & Lord of South Dipper will be appointed to do the Follow-Up Inspection, in-order for them to do the necessary Recording on the Credits, Merits, Sins & Debts of Mortals and from there, the proper amount of blessing for each individuals, will be bestowed upon accordingly.

After the necessary Recordings are being made and being reported to Great Jade Emperor, on the 15th Day of  1st Lunar Month (農曆正月十五日), Tian Guan Da Di (天官大帝) will be there to perform the Inspection and Distributing of Fortune & Prosperity to the Mortals (赐福人间) who have gained the necessary Blessing according to their Accumulated Credits & Merits.

Before that, on the Eve of Lunar New Year (大年除夕), Fu Lu Shou (福祿壽) – the Three Prosperity Stars will be there to distribute the necessary Blessing to the Mortals for the Lunar New Year.

Note: Praying to the 2 Lords Of North Dipper & South Dipper on this day,  is an important event for Taoist Priests and Pure / Orthodox Taoists. Modern days common Chinese folks often ignore this event, or never know about this event.

Chinese New Year Eve

30th of 12th Lunar Month

Reunion Dinner with the Family. Prayer Offering to Deities & Ancestors and seek blessing for the Elderly at Home. Ushering in the Star Lord of Prosperity, Fortune & Longevity (福祿壽).

Important Note: A lot of  common people mistake that on the Eve of Lunar New Year is a Day to invite Gods Of Wealth (財神), which is wrong. Inviting & Ushering Gods of Wealth should be on 5th day of  Chinese New Year.

Starting of Spring (开春)

1st Day Of Chinese New Year

Morning will do Prayer Offering to Great Jade Emperor (拜天公). Married couples will visit husband side of parents, grand-parents and relatives.

Wife Go Back Own Family ( 回娘家)

2nd Day Of Chinese New Year

Hui Niang Jia (回娘家) literally means "Returning to Mummy's Home". Married couples will visit wife's side of parents, grand-parents and relatives.

The Day Of Red Mouth (赤口日)

3rd Day Of Chinese New Year

According to traditional custom, on the third day of the Chinese New Year, this day is known as “Chi Kou Ri” (赤口日) - The Day Of Red Mouth. People usually don’t go out for visiting, because this day is not a good day to socialize or visit relatives and friends, because “red mouth” in Chinese culture is easy to cause quarrels and fights. This day is also known as “Chi Gou Ri” (赤狗日) - The day of Red Dog. The Red Dog is the God of Blazing Wrath. Bad things will happen if people run into the Red Dog. So, on this day, older people who believe in superstition will stay at home all day long.

Note: Nowadays, modern younger Chinese Folks never pay attention to this superstition. They continue to visit friends & relatives.

Returning of Kithen God & other Deities 

4th Day Of Chinese New Year

Inviting & Ushering back the Kitchen Deity  and other Deities back to altars and preparing to welcome Gods Of Wealth.

Manifestation day of Gods Of Wealth Of 5 Directions

5th Day Of Chinese New Year

Chinese Folks who have the knowledge , or seek help from a Fortune Teller, Taoist Master / Taoist Sorcerer  will do prayer offering to invite Gods Of Wealth to house, business premises on this day.

Usually prayer preparation has already completed and on stand-by on the 4th Day Night. Once, the clock hit 5th day and at the exact correct time and the exact direction, prayer will start and invite Gods Of Wealth.



On the 5th day, Chinese Temples, especially the Gods Of Wealth Temples  will be doing grand prayers. Fortune Tellers, Feng Shui Masters, Taoist Masters / Taoist Sorcerers are very busy doing wealth prayers for clients and customers.

Note: Please refer to Chinese Almanac, or seek help from a Fortune Teller, Feng Shui Master, Taoist Master , Taoist Sorcerer to know the exact time, and the exact direction to invite Gods Of Wealth. If You pray wrongly, You might end up inviting the "Unlucky" Gods (煞神)  and be prepared for a whole year of misery and bad lucks.

Human Day - Ren Ri (人日) & Lao Yu Sheng (捞魚生)

7th Day Of Chinese New Year

Human Day - Ren Ri (人日) is a day for humans - the master of the universe, so the main festivities also stress the importance of human beings.


According to a Chinese legend, Nüwa (女娲) is the goddess who created the world. She created certain animals on different days, hence each day is considered the birthday of the corresponding animal. Human beings were created from yellow clay on the 7th day after the creation of the world.

1st day of 1st Lunar Month : Creation of Chicken
2nd day of 1st Lunar Month : Creation of Dog
3rd day of 1st Lunar Month : Creation of Boar
4th day of 1st Lunar Month : Creation of Sheep
5th day of 1st Lunar Month : Creation of Cow
6th day of 1st Lunar Month : Creation of Horse
7th day of 1st Lunar Month : Creation of Human
8th day of 1st Lunar Month : Creation of Millet

To honour Nüwa's creation of animals, either vegetable dishes will be eaten, or a raw fish and vegetable salad called Yu Sheng (鱼生). Yusheng literally means "raw fish" but since "fish (鱼)" is commonly conflated with its homophone "abundance (余)", Yú Shēng (鱼生) is interpreted as a homonym for Yú Shēng (余升) meaning an increase in abundance. Therefore, Yu Sheng is considered a symbol of abundance, prosperity and vigor.


Fishermen along the coast of Guangzhou traditionally celebrated Human Day - Ren Ri (人日), the seventh day of the Chinese New Year, by feasting on their catches. The practice of eating raw fish in thinly sliced strips can be traced back to ancient China through the raw fish or meat dish known as kuai (膾, kuài). However the present form of Yu Sheng is believed to have started in Chaozhou and Shantou as far back as the Southern Song Dynasty.


Note: Tossing & Eating Yu Sheng during Chinese New Year is a cultural activity for Chinese living in Singapore,Malaysia & Indonesia , but not so much in other Chinese-populated countries such as Hong Kong, where the practice is almost unheard of.

Birthday / Manifestation Day of Great Jade Emperor (天公誕)

8th Day of Chinese New Year

Preparation for the celebration of the Manifestation Day of Great Jade Emperor (starts at 23:00) (天公聖誕-拜天公)


9th Day Of Chinese New Year

The 9th day of the Chinese New Year is the birthday of the Great Jade Emperor - The Supreme Deity of Taoism. According to Chinese legend, all the deities of the heaven and the earth will celebrate this day. There will be grand ceremonies in Taoist temples on this day.

Yuan Xiao Jie (元宵节) & Shang Yuan Festival(上元节)

14th Day / 15th of Chinese New Year

Yuan Xiao Jie (元宵节) is also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Yuan Xiao Jie (元宵节) also known as The Lantern Festival which marks the end of Chinese New Year celebrations. It should not be confused with Mid-Autumn Festival, popularly also coined as Lantern Festival. Yuan Xiao Jie falls on the 15th day of Zheng Yue (first month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar) is also known as Chap Goh Mei (literally 15th evening). One of the activities is guessing riddles written on lanterns - Cai Deng Mi (猜灯谜).



Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka will Celebrate Yuan Xiao Festival on the 14th, after 8.00 Pm. These 3 dialect groups will visit Temples to request for Blessing.

Note: Young Chinese Folks focus on Yuan Xiao Jie (元宵节) - Chinese Valentine's Day to party. Taoist Priests and Pure / Orthodox Taoists will focus on praying and paying respect to Tian Guan Da Di (天官大帝).

15th Day of Chinese New Year

Shang Yuan Festival (上元节)falls on 15th Day of 1st Lunar Month. It is the day for Taoists to pay respect to Tian Guan Da Di (天官大帝) aka Lord of Heavenly Realm.

Shang Yuan Festival (上元节) is the Manifestation Anniversary of Tian Guan Da Di (上元天官大帝千秋) or known as the Inspection Day of  Tian Guan Da Di (上元天官大帝校查日).

Shui Guan (水官) | Tian Guan (天官 ) | Di Guan


The Three Great Emperor Officials ( 三官大帝 San Guan Da Di ) are the Heavenly Official (天官 - Tian Guan), the Earthly Official (地官 - Di Guan) and the Water Official (水官 - Shui Guan).

The Three Great Emperor Officials (三官大帝 San Guan Da Di), also called the Great Emperors of the Three Primordials (三元大帝 San Yuan Da Di), are a trinity of supreme Taoist deities that embody the essence of the primordial energies of the universe.

Heavenly Official (天官 - Tian Guan)

The Great Emperor Heaven Official is correlated with the Jade Clarity Realm (玉清境 - Yu Qing Jing) and embodies the essence of the green, yellow, and white energies. He is in charge of all the other sovereign deities in the heavenly regions (i.e. celestial deities with the title “emperor” that reside in the heaven realms). His full title is The Great Emperor Heaven Official of Purple Subtlety of the Upper Primordial & Primary Grade Who Confers Blessings (上元一品賜福天官紫微大帝 - Shang Yuan Yi Pin Ci Fu Tian Guan Zi Wei Da Di).

The 15th day of the 1st Chinese lunar month, coinciding with the Yuan Xiao/ Lantern Festival, is observed as his birthday and is also known as the Shang Yuan (Upper Primordial) Festival (上元節 - Shang Yuan Jie). It is believed that on this day, the Heaven Official descends to earth to inspect the world of mortals and to confer his blessings on them.

The Earth Official (地官 - Di Guan)

The Great Emperor Earth Official is correlated with the Supreme Clarity Realm (上清境 - Shang Qing Jing) and embodies the essence of the energies of the primordial grotto and consolidated spirit and that of the extreme yellow. He is in charge of the five emperors of the Five Sacred Taoist Mountains, as well as all the other deities of the earth (i.e. terrestrial and locality gods). His full title is The Great Emperor Earth Official of Pristine Emptiness of the Middle Primordial & Secondary Grade Who Pardons Sins (中元二品赦罪地官清虛大帝 - Zhong Yuan Er Pin She Zui Di Guan Qing Xu Da Di).

The 15th day of the 7th Chinese lunar month, coinciding with the Ghost Festival, is observed as his birthday and is also known as the Zhongyuan (Middle Primordial) Festival (中元節 Zhong Yuan Jie). It is believed that on this day, the Earth Official descends to earth to inspect and assess the sins of mortals and to pardon them if he sees it is fit to do so.

The Water Official  (水官 - Shui Guan)

The Great Emperor Water Official is correlated with the Jade Clarity Realm (玉清境 Yu Qing Jing) and embodies the essence of the energies of wind and water and that of the vast dawn. He is in charge of all deities that reside in or are related to water. His full title is The Great Emperor Water Official of Pervasive Yin of Lower Primordial & Tertiary Grade Who Eliminates Distress (下元三品解厄水官洞陰大帝 Xia Yuan San Pin Jie E Shui Guan Dong Yin Da Di).

The 15th day of the 10th Chinese lunar month is observed as his birthday and is also known as the Xiayuan (Lower Primordial) Festival (下元節 Xia Yuan Jie). It is believed that on this day, the Water Official descends to earth to inspect and assess the sins of mortals and to eliminate their misfortune and distress if he sees it is fit to do so.

Tatung - Spiritual Possession - Chap Goh Meh Festival

In Hokkien dialect, "Chap Goh Meh" means "the 15th night of Chinese New Year". Somewhere in West Kalimantan, Borneo in the small Chinese Hakka town of Singkawang (山口洋) , the local Chinese has a unique way of celebrating the 15th day of Chinese New Year, which is Spirit Possession. The local Chinese call it ‘Tatung’ (大同) which means ‘going into trance' with a mixed of Chinese and Dayak people rituals.



On this day tens of thousands of locals from all over Indonesia and overseas flock into ‘Kota Amoi’ the nickname of Singkawang, to witness this spectacular yet somewhat scary parade of mostly mediums, shamans, medicine man, dukuns and bomohs, not only from the Chinese communities but also from the Dayak and Malay communities. The Chinese not only trance the chinese gods / spirits but also Dayak native gods / spirits. The dayaks will also trance the Chinese gods, as well as their own Native Spirits / Gods.

Chap Goh Meh Tatung Festival has grown so big that the Indonesian government has promoted it as an annual tourist attraction.

If You're keen to be there, or happen to be there, be warned that some scenes are not for the fainthearted. You may get to witness the possessed mediums of the dayak spirits, who will slaughter life puppies / chickens, or other animals with their daggers, swords and drink the animals' blood and devour their raw meat with their mouths.



Replenishing of Good Luck & Wealth Coffer

16th Day of Chinese New Year

Prayer for replenishing of Good Luck & Wealth Coffer - Bu Yun / Bu Cai Ku (補運/補财庫)


Conclusion

Now, You know celebrating Chinese New Year is not just celebrating on the actual day by itself.  Several festive & praying events have started few weeks before it and then continue to celebrate until 15th of the 1st Lunar Month, and finally end on 16th day  by doing prayer to replenish good luck & money luck.

Related Articles:
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CHINESE GODS OF WEALTH
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