By Vanessa Hung
Gong hei fat choi! Last week, more than millions of people celebrated Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year. It is the most important festival to gather around with family and friends among the Chinese community.
Chinese New Year marks the end of winter. It also means people are ready to embrace the start of spring for planting, harvesting and a fresh start. If you notice closely, the date of Chinese New Year varies every year. It is because the Chinese New Year follows the lunar calendar which marks the start of a new moon. Since it depends on the moon, every year is different. This year started on 25 January, Saturday and is the year of the Rat.
In Chinese tradition, each year is named after one of 12 animals, which are in the following order of the Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. So the animals will have a year dedicated to them once every 12 years, in a cycle.
Here is the race myth story for the Zodiac rankings. Long long time ago, the Jade Emperor wanted to select 12 animals as his guards. He then sent an immortal being to the world and spread the message that the earlier who went through the Heavenly Gate, the higher the rank it would have. The next day, animals set off towards the Heavenly Gate. Rat got up very early. The Rat tricked the Ox into giving him a ride to cross the river. After crossing the river, the Rat jumped out of Ox’s ear and dashed to the feet of the Emperor. Rat ended up becoming first. Therefore, Rat is always known as keen-witted and a sign of wealth in Chinese culture.
So how do Chinese people celebrate this important festival? There are some taboos during Chinese New Year. It starts even before the festival begins. People start to clean their homes to get rid of ‘dirt’ and ‘unluckiness’ and prepare for the celebration. When New Year’s Day comes, it is a tradition not to pick up a broom and shower, in case you sweep and wash your luck away at the beginning of the year! Right before the night before New Year, people wash their bodies in pomelo leaves to wash away the bad luck and things happened in the last year.
One of the most important parts of Chinese New Year is the food. A reunion dinner is held on New Year’s Eve which brings all the family members to gather. It is traditional and serves with sumptuous ingredients like meat and seafood. In a lot of dishes, fish is served but it cannot be eaten completely, as in Chinese there is a saying ‘may there be surplus every year’ which rhymes with ‘let there be fish every year’. On the day of it, people eat rice cakes and sweet dumplings as its pronunciation is known as ‘a more prosperous year’ and ‘gathering’. It is very common for children to receive lucky money from the red envelopes known as red packets from the grandparents and older relatives.
Every street, building, and house where Spring Festival is celebrated is decorated with red. Red is the main colour for the festival, as red is believed to be an auspicious colour.
Image credit: Paul