Chinese New Year is the longest and most important festivity in the Lunar Calendar. The origin of Chinese New Year is itself centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and traditions. Ancient Chinese New Year is a reflection on how the people behaved and what they believed in the most.
According to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nien. Nien would come on the first day of New Year to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year. It was believed that after the Nien ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. When the people saw the Nien was frightened by a little child wearing red, the villagers understood that the Nien was afraid of the colour red. Hence, every time when the New Year was about to come, the villagers would decorate their homes and village by hanging red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors. People also used firecrackers to frighten away the Nien, starting the use of firecrackers at New Years, as well as other celebrations. The Nien was eventually captured by Hong Jun Lao Zu (Lao Zu means teacher), an ancient Taoist monk. The Nien became the monk’s mount.
While I grew up in America, we didn’t do the whole traditional Chinese New Year celebration, but my Mom tried to keep some of the traditions alive. We had a nice dinner, with hand rolled, home made spring rolls, fried rice, and stir fried noodles.
We were given a red envelope with a little money in it and always an even amount (Odd numbers are associated with funerals and death). The number 8 is considered lucky (for its homophone for "wealth"), The number six is also very lucky due to the reason, in Chinese six or liu (Look familiar?!?) can mean smooth, as in having a smooth year. Sometimes chocolate coins are found in the red packets. By the way, odd and even numbers are determined by the first digit, rather than the last. Thirty and fifty, for example, are odd numbers, and are funeral amounts, not New Year amounts.