Understanding the Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year is celebrated according to the Chinese calendar on the second new moon after the winter solstice, or the first new moon of the Chinese lunar calendar. This usually falls in late January or mid-February.
Is a time to start with a blank slate. Chinese families clean their homes, buy new clothing, and repay any debts they may owe in order to prepare for the New Year.
On New Year’s Eve, families decorate their homes. They set off fireworks to scare away evil spirits. Families also prepare a feast of traditional Chinese New Year foods.
Chinese New Year is also a time for people to connect with family and honor their ancestors. On New Year’s Day, people visit family members and friends to wish them luck in the New Year. They say “Gung hay fat choy,” which means, “May you prosper.” Children receive red envelopes called lai see with gifts of money inside.
Chinese New Year celebrations last for 15 days and conclude with the Lantern Festival. This is when people gather to watch parades of lanterns and dancing dragons or lions. The parades are filled with Chinese New Year songs and dances.
What are the Chinese New Year animals? What do they mean?
Each year corresponds with an animal of the Chinese Zodiac. The rotation of the animals is on a 12-year cycle. The animal for any given year holds significance for those who are born in that year.
Rat (1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008) — Charming, well-organized, creative, ambitious
Ox (1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009) — Patient, loyal, determined, easy going
Tiger (1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010) — Brave, warm, sincere, daring
Rabbit (1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011) — Selfless, neat, humble, quiet
Dragon (1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012) — Imaginative, strong, fun, energetic
Snake (1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001) — Mysterious, quiet, deep thinker
Horse (1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002) — Competitive, cheerful, talented, hard worker
Sheep (1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003) — Affectionate, trusting, artistic
Monkey (1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004) — Humorous, inventive, smart
Rooster (1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005) — Determined, proud, confident.
Dog (1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006) — Loyal, trustworthy, likeable, sympathetic
Pig (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007) — Industrious, hardworking, good-natured
Songs and dances
Music, along with an ancient food heritage, is embedded in Chinese New Year tradition. Chinese beliefs dictate that the creation of musical sounds influences harmony in the universe. Songs celebrating the New Year often have a joyous tone and wish people a prosperous year ahead. Some of these songs have been passed down for generations, while other more recent and popular songs are also shared.
Vocal and instrumental music are part of family gatherings, parades, and concerts celebrating the New Year. Traditional Chinese instruments are often played. These instruments represent the following eight sounds in Chinese culture:
Silk — Stringed instruments that are plucked, struck, or played with a bow
Bamboo — Flutes, oboes, and pipes
Wood — Percussion instruments made of wood
Stone — Chimes
Metal — Bells, cymbals, and gong
Clay — Percussion and wind instruments made of baked clay
Gourd — Wind instruments
Hide — Drums played with the hands or struck by sticks
According to Chinese New Year tradition, celebrations last for 15 days and end with the Lantern Festival. At this festival, musicians perform the Lion Dance. (It is sometimes called the Dragon Dance.) Drummers create rhythms on percussive instruments such as drums, gongs, and cymbals. Other performers control a dancing lion like a giant puppet and move to the rhythms of beating drums.
When families gather for Chinese New Year, they prepare traditional foods for the holiday. On New Year’s Day, a family shares a meal together at a round table to symbolize unity. Duck, chicken, and fish are presented whole, including their heads and feet to symbolize wholeness within the family.
Some families prepare a meal called jai. It is a vegetarian dish made of vegetables, seeds, nuts, and noodles. People believe this meal purifies the body for the New Year.
One typical Chinese New Year dessert is a steamed cake called nian gao. The cakes are made of rice flour and dried fruit and said to bring good luck in the New Year. Nian means “year” and gao means “high.”
‘Tray of togetherness’
Chinese New Year tradition calls for people to pay visits to family and friends. As such, many families keep oranges and a tray of dried fruits, seeds, and candies to offer to their guests. This tray, called the “Tray of Togetherness,” or chyuhn haap, represents peace and harmony. Each of the tray’s eight compartments holds a food that symbolizes good fortune in the New Year.
Here are foods often found in the Tray of Togetherness:
Candy melon (good health and growth)
Melon seeds (happiness)
Lychee nut (strong family ties)
Coconut (friendship and unity)
Peanuts (long life)
Longan (many good sons)
Lotus root seeds (many children)
Fresh kumquat (gold and prosperity)
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