Red lanterns, mouse year decorations and the festive music booming from every corner are all reminders that the Lunar New Year is only a few days away. As the longest holiday in Hong Kong, Lunar New Year is the most important festival of the year for the Chinese community, celebrated by an estimated 1.5 billion people globally. But did you know that historically Chinese New Year once fell around October? So how did the festival become the way it is today? Which Lunar New Year dishes bring luck and prosperity? The word for ‘year’ is actually the name of a monster View this post on Instagram A #Nian for #creatuanary #ink #sketchbook #creatuanary2018 #chinesemythology #newyearbeast #nianbeast #nianshou #mythology #beast #mythical #mythicalcreatures A post shared by Layne VanDoodle (@mythicalayne) on Jan 13, 2018 at 5:53pm PST Like any other ancient cultural tradition, there are numerous magical mythologies to explain the origins of the Lunar New Year festival. The most widespread one talks of a monster called Nian, which means “year” in Chinese. It is said that Nian hid in the mountains (although some versions say it was under the sea) and came out once a year during winter, to feast on crops and villagers. Terrified families would gather on the eve of Nian’s arrival, staying up the whole night waiting for the threat to pass. This is what later became Shou Sui ceremony on New Year’s Eve, when many modern families still stay awake together throughout the night. As communities gained experience in battling Nian, they found out its weakness – fire, the colour red and loud sounds. Hence people started putting up red posters and lanterns, lighting fires and setting off firecrackers. These methods successfully scared off Nian, and they have been preserved as celebrations for defeating the monster to this day. There are many versions of this tale, and the main difference is that the monster has various names and the tales incorporate different Chinese New Year ceremonies into the divergent plots. But in a way, they all trace the celebrations back to the annual fight with that same monster. 5 luxury red handbags for a classy Lunar New Year look When did the festival start? If you don’t believe in the legends, there are other explanations of how the festival started. Based on the name, we can naturally guess that Lunar New Year falls on the first day of the new year of the Chinese lunar calendar. But the celebration, also known as Spring Festival, dates back to long before the lunar calendar existed. Some scholars believe that in ancient China, before the first Xia dynasty, the original form of Spring Festival already existed. Back in the era’s agricultural society, tribe leaders would gather people at the end of harvest season for grand celebrations and praying rituals, expressing gratitude to gods and ancestors. This is the early way of marking and welcoming a new year. As time passed, the yearly ritual remained strong, while the celebrations become more and more prominent, spreading from the palace to every household, gradually growing into the Spring Festival we know today. However, as ancient Chinese people’s knowledge expanded and the lunar calendar was invented, they grew new ideas of when to host the ceremony, instead of merely following the harvest season. And so the date of the festival – the date that marks the new year – has been adjusted several times as the lunar calendar evolved. Where to celebrate the Year of the Rat: 9 Lunar New Year feasts Lunar New Year was Yuandan (or Yuan Dan) In ancient China, the new year was called neither Lunar New Year nor Spring Festival. The holiday was named Yuan Dan, meaning the first morning of a new beginning. As the lunar calendar developed, the date of Yuan Dan has varied a lot in different dynasties, changing from the first month in Xia, to the twelfth month in Shang, then to the tenth month in Qin, and that lasted until Han. In the Han dynasty, the lunar calendar was finalised at Emperor Wu’s time and Yuan Dan was set on the first day of the first month as we recognise today. Following the cycle of the moon, the celebrations would last from Yuan Dan until the first full moon, Yuan Xiao, which is what we know as the Lantern Festival. How to make the most of your Hong Kong public holidays in 2020 The lunar calendar has been followed since then. But after the Qing dynasty fell apart, China adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1912, and Yuan Dan was changed to refer to January 1, while the Lunar New Year became “Yuan Dan on lunar calendar”. In 1914, the then-president Yuan Shikai suggested renaming the four holidays after each season, and Chinese New Year was granted the new name Spring Festival. This tradition has stayed until today, and the Lunar New Year became known as today’s Spring Festival. Where are Singapore noodles from? How are century eggs made? Are French fries improperly named? And what’s the final verdict on where tikka masala was created? With the Origins series , STYLE delves into the often surprising beginnings of iconic dishes or foods, how they’ve evolved over time and the many ways they’re enjoyed today. Want more stories like this? Sign up here . Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .