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Study Chinese: (4) Chinese characters and food

As everyone knows, the most important holiday in China is the Spring Festival—“春节(chūnjié)”. The Chinese people use the phrase “过年(?uònián)”—celebrate the New Year. What’s the meaning of “年”. It is one of the Chinese people favorite characters. The original meaning of this character was not the period of time that we commonly refer to today as “year” or “年”.

The original shape of the character depicts a person carrying a bundle of grain on his back, representing a “bumper harvest”. Thus, the original meaning of “年” is “harvest”. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in Beijing’s Temple of Heaven Park was once used to pray for bumper harvest. In ancient times, since crops were only harvested once each year, the character took the meaning of “year”.

The phase “?uònián” originated in the Shang Dynasty with a form of worship as known as “là jì”. People worked hard all year round and enjoyed a big harvest. By the 12th month of the lunar calendar, people wanted to thank their ancestors and the gods of heaven and earth for blessing them, and also pray for another harvest. Therefore, they held celebrations and sacrificial activities. These activities later came to be known as “guònián”.

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