Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Incense and the Chinese Lunar New Year

The incense Journey - previous articles, click HERE, HERE

Burning Incense of New Years' Eve
Photo credits: REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

The Chinese new year, also called the Chinese Lunar new year or Spring festival, is one of the longest and most important festivities of their lunisolar calendar. 2011 is the year of the rabbit, and it started on february 3rd (which it will be repeated only in January 23 of 2023).
According to tales and Chinese legends, the Chinese New year started with the fight against a mythical beast called Nian. This voracious beast would come to the Chinese villages to eat livestock, crops and even villagers, including children. In order to protect themselves from this horrible fate, people placed food outside their doors believing that Nian would be satisfied and go away. They also believed that by dressing their children in red would scare the beast away. They believed that Nian was actually afraid of the red color, therefore they hanged red lanterns and spring scrolls on their doors and windows. Firecrackers were also used to scare it as they made a lot of noise. After so much effort to scare it, the villagers successfully put Nian away. It was later capture by a monk, transforming itself in the Hongjun Laozu's mount

Spooking Nian
Photo credits: REUTERS/Aly Song

The period of the Chinese new year's festivities is also know for the largest human migration, due to the fact that Chinese living in urban areas travel to visit their families. also Chinese abroad return to China to spend the holidays with family.
Preceding the New years' Eve Chinese people devote themselves to cleaning their houses in order to "wash away" all the bad luck. Some people give a new coat of red paint to the house just to assure the bad luck will not come in. Having a new haircut and buying new clothes brings is also very common and it brings the notion of a fresh start.

The first day of the New year
Many Chinese don't eat meat in this day, and the family dinner is the most important event. Also visiting the oldest members of the family is a common tradition. In most villages you will see firecrackers on the sky and a lot of dancing on the streets. After dinner, families usually go to the temple to pray. It is a common practice to run to the temple to try to be the first one to place the joss stick for good luck and prosperity. Mobs  run on the streets in the hope to place their incenses before midnight. Sometimes police is required to put some order in this crazy run to the temples.

Photo credits: Reuters/Nick Lou

The last day of the Chinese Lunar New year is the 15th day, when the first full moon can be seen, and it is celebrated with the Lantern Festival. In this day people usually carry lighted lanterns on the streets.

Photo credits: ahachinese.com

Photo credit: bringyouhome.com

Incense in Chinese means "fragrance" and it is traditionally used in a variety of situations, from religious and medical purposes and even in their daily lives.
Incense use by Chinese people comes from the Neolithic times and it became extremely popular during the Song Dynasty - a period when incense appreciation became a cultural past time, to the extent that special rooms were built for this purpose.
Censing in China was also common among intellectuals who believed that censing their clothes was a way to show courtesy. 

Photo credit: 123rf.com

Chinese incense burners are usually made to resemble a metal or stone plate, standing on small legs.

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