Why Red Is the Official Color of Chinese New Year

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Handing out those red envelopes on Chinese New Year has nothing to do with money.

From red lanterns to red envelopes, did you ever wonder why the color red is so popular in China, especially on the Chinese New Year? Legend has it that it all began with the Nian, a ferocious beast that would terrorize villagers on the New Year, eating crops, livestock, and even children. But villagers learned that this half bull with a lion head was afraid of three things: fire, noise, and the color red. Nian was defeated, and from then on, the color red was considered to bring good luck and good fortune to all. Lucky for you, you don’t need to defeat a ferocious beast to celebrate the Chinese New Year–all you need to do is get your red on. Here are other Chinese New Year traditions we can all celebrate.

“Usually red lanterns are hung outside the doors to ward off bad luck,” suggests Karen Katz, author of the 2012 picture book My First Chinese New Year. “Also red cutout papers are used as decorations to hang on the walls. If you live near a Chinese neighborhood you should be able to purchase these items, but if not, go online and order them. You can also make your own cutouts.” This is the history behind Chinese New Year.

Although the traditional art of paper-cut is handcrafted with a knife, it’s easy to make your own red paper cutouts (Jianzhi) for the Chinese New Year at home. Similar to cutting out paper snowflakes, all you need are a sharp pair of scissors and some red paper to make these festive red Chinese New Year decorations to hang on your windows. And like snowflakes, no paper cutouts are alike; in fact, some are amazing works of art that have been included in museum collections.

Still, the most popular way to celebrate the Chinese New Year is to hand out red envelopes filled with money. However, like toys under the Christmas tree, some traditions are meant for children, and Chinese red envelopes are given to them to ward off evil spirits. Next, learn what your Chinese Zodiac symbol reveals about what this year has in store.

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