Chinese New Year secular now but kept religious underpinning

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Chinese New Year secular now but kept religious underpinning

NEW YORK (AP) — The Chinese New Year holiday period, being disrupted this year by the outbreak of a viral illness, has evolved over more than 3,000 years to become the most important of China’s traditional festivals.

As celebrated in China and in many other places where its known as the Lunar New Year, it is largely a secular holiday, yet it includes rituals and traditions that derive from Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, as well as from ancient myths and folk religions.

One of the popular versions of its origin involves an elderly wise man who used firecrackers and red paper to scare away a menacing mythical beast. Red lanterns and gifts of money in red envelopes are ubiquitous during the holiday, as are dragon dances, another legendary way to chase off evil spirits.

Another still common tradition involves appeasing the Kitchen God; families will set out wine and sweet treats as an offering so he will relay a favorable report to the higher deities after inspecting their household.

The holiday prompts some to make a rare visit to a temple, comparable to the way some Christians go to church only at Christmas and Easter.

“While most mainland Chinese are officially atheist, many engage in traditional ritual practices at festival times. When I visited the famous Lingyin Temple outside Hangzhou last weekend, preparations were well under way to receive tens of thousands of visitors over the new year’s holiday,” said James Miller, a professor of humanities at Duke Kunshan University in China, by email.

In addition to hanging hundreds of lanterns to provide a festive air, “workers were also installing long lines of security barriers in front of the main temple halls in order to manage the anticipated long lines of worshipers eager to pay their respects to the Buddha and pray for health and good fortune in the coming year,“Miller said. “For many visitors, this will be their only temple visit, but it is significant nonetheless.”

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