The Chinese New Year is one of the most important festivals in China and is celebrated by its neighbouring countries, as well as Asians across the globe.
In 2023, the Chinese New Year falls on 22 January, marking the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit. The Spring Festival, lasting 16 days, is filled with fun activities and traditions. You will find everything painted in the hue of red during this festival.
Colours play a significant part in Chinese culture as they represent various qualities and ideas that were formed thousands of years ago and have retained their significance over generations. Usually a part of folklore, these colours help us connect with our immediate environment.
The Chinese consider red an auspicious colour. They include it as their primary celebratory colour, which makes it more than just a shade symbolising the Lunar New Year. You will find them wearing clothes with a splash of red even on other important occasions such as weddings.
The colour red in the Year of the Rabbit
Rabbit is characterised by hope, peace, prosperity and longevity. Since 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit, particularly the water rabbit, it is predicted to be the year of success and peace. The luckiest colours for Rabbits are red, pink, purple and blue.
As mentioned earlier, the colour red in the Chinese zodiac is very important because it symbolises prosperity and good luck. The colour red also signifies happiness. Witty and ambitious, the water rabbit’s affinity towards the colour red is perfect to blend with their ethos.
Read on to know why the colour red is considered lucky for Chinese New Year
Warding off ‘Nian’
According to legends, a beast named Nian would come on Chinese New Year’s Eve to devour villagers, livestock and crops. To protect themselves from the mythical creature, people would put food in front of their doors, hoping that Nian wouldn’t harm anyone after consuming it.
One night, people say, they saw Nian get scared of a child dressed in red clothes. Ever since, they have been hanging red lanterns and spring scrolls with couplets to keep the beast away for another year.
People would even greet each other by saying “Gong Xi Fa Cai,” or “Congratulations,” on New Year’s Eve to scare away the mythical beast. For the same reason, the Nian dance or the lion dance is performed every Chinese New Year’s eve.
What does the colour symbolise?
The three colours that are considered auspicious according to Chinese traditions are red, yellow and green. These colours are derived from the Chinese Five Elements Theory, in which red represents ‘fire’, yellow denotes ‘earth’, green or blue signifies ‘wood’, white symbolises ‘metal’, and black indicates ‘water’.
Red is the traditional colour of the Han — the dominant ethnic group in China — that signifies good fortune, luck, vitality, celebration and prosperity. Especially during the Chinese New Year, the country’s people adorn themselves in red apparel to boost luck and ward off evil spirits.
People spruce up their houses and offices with red lanterns, banners and paper cuttings too. Red envelopes filled with money are gifted to children and elders.
Chinese New Year practises
There are many Chinese traditions still being followed widely during festivals and on key occasions. During the Chinese New Year, people visit their relatives and friends, a practice likened to the New Year’s Eve celebrations on 31 December every year. Here’s how red is used liberally during the occasion.
Red envelopes for gifting
Children love the tradition of giving red packets or envelopes. The ‘Lai See’, or red envelopes, filled with cash or chocolate coins are given to kids, single young adults and employees for good luck and health in the coming year.
According to customs, the amount of money should be in even numbers, as odd amounts are given during funerals.
The Lantern Festival
The 15th day of the Chinese New Year is marked by the Lantern Festival, signifying the end of the Spring festival. The celebrations are held at night with red lanterns displayed across towns and children carrying them in parades.
Choosing clothes with red colour
Red-coloured clothing is worn throughout the Lunar New Year as it symbolises prosperity and is thought to ward off evil spirits. Interestingly, people are clad in everything red from head to toe as the new year begins.
(Main and featured image credit: Jason Leung/Unsplash)