Chinese New Year

The Chinese characters here can be translated “Wishing You Prosperity.”


The Year of the Rooster—4703 in the Xia lunar calendar—begins on February 9, 2005. Also known as the Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year is a time of reunion, relaxation and fun. The customs described here pertain to Yunnan Province and differ somewhat in other regions of China.

Map adapted from Professor Osgood’s 1938 map of Kao Yao in Yunnan Province, China.


The items displayed in this exhibit were collected in 1938 from the village of Kao Yao, Yunnan Province, China, by Professor Cornelius Osgood, curator of anthropology at the Yale Peabody Museum from 1930 to 1973. Publications such as Osgood’s monograph Village Life in Old China, which describes many of the 215 objects in this collection, help us understand how artifacts in the Peabody’s collections were used in society.

The days leading up to the New Year are a time for cleaning house and paying off debts. Fireworks at midnight on New Year’s Eve greet the new year and drive away the evil spirits and bad luck of the old year.

Photograph of a young boy wearing a black satin hat. Taken by Professor Osgood in 1938. From Village Life in Old China, Cornelius Osgood, 1963.


Considered the most important family gathering of the year, the festival lasts for 15 days and includes many visits and ritual meals of rice and homemade dumplings that are shared with family and ancestors. Many ancient Chinese traditions are based on ancestor veneration. It is the duty of the eldest son (filial piety) to make sure that all these traditions are fulfilled, everything from proper burial to ceremonial offerings.

Red satin jacket made in the late 1870s for a young woman or bride.



Below right: Detail of the decoration.

Foreground, on left: Baby’s hat made of black satin with tassels, from Yunnan Province, China, about 1928. It is worn by the small boy in the photograph (previous panel).



The festival culminates with the Feast of Lanterns on the 15th day of the first month (all months have 30 days), when lanterns and fir branches are hung in doorways to attract longevity and prosperity.