Now & Then﹕Lunar New Year

【明報專訊】Lunar New Year is round the corner when symbols of Christmas are being replaced by signs of sales in shopping malls. Children and teenagers in modern Hong Kong and even those on the mainland can no longer experience Spring Festival as their grandparents did. Let's get into a time machine to see how people celebrated Lunar New Year in those days!

“Golden triangle of Lunar New Year:

crackers, dumplings and New Year's cake ”

Crackers (鞭炮、爆竹)

Chinese people started letting off firecrackers about 2,000 years ago. They were then used not as a means of celebration but as a "weapon". It was said that a fierce animal called "Nian" (年獸) would appear on Lunar New Year's Eve. To scare it away, people burned bamboo sticks outside their homes. When air in them expands with heat, bamboo sticks explode and crack, making tremendous noise. People thought the noise would repel Nian.

It has since been a tradition in China to let off firecrackers in Lunar New Year. However, bamboo sticks have given way to cardboard and moderate gunpowder. Firecrackers may cause injuries. For that reason, the Hong Kong government banned them in 1967. Nevertheless, during traditional festivals, especially in Lunar New Year, firecrackers are heard in villages in the New Territories.

On the mainland, the central government banned crackers towards the end of the 1990s. The ban has not been strictly enforced, and it has been largely ignored. The government has stopped people from letting off crackers in big cities. Because of the ban, the cracker industry has declined. Nevertheless, China remains the biggest firecracker producer in the world.

Firecracker noises always accompany a dragon dance (舞龍) or lion dance (舞獅). They are traditional dances performed during festivals. The dragon dance is performed by a team of people who move in such a manner that the colourful fabric-made dragon they carry looks lively and energetic. It served the same purpose to do a dragon dance as to let off firecrackers-to frighten Nian away. The dragon dance has subsequently become an entertainment.