Here’s to a Year filled with luck, prosperity & fortune!

Spring Festival, widely known as Chinese New Year in the West, is the most important traditional festival, and most important celebration for families in China. It is an official public holiday, during which most people in China have eight days off work.

The Date Is Based on the Lunar Calendar

chinese zodiac signs

Chinese New Year 2015 began on Thursday, February 19, and ends on Thursday, March 5. It is day one, month one of the Chinese lunar calendar, and its date in January or February varies from year to year (always somewhere in the period between January 21 to February 20).

The Chinese lunar calendar is associated with a Chinese zodiac cycle, which has 12 animal signs: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Each animal represents one year in a 12-year cycle, beginning on Chinese New Year’s Day.

year of the goat4

2015 is the Year of the Goat (“Wood Goat”)

2015 is the Year of the Goat according to the zodiac cycle, and furthermore, is a year of the “Wood Goat”, according to the Chinese Five Element Theory. A “Wood Goat” year occurs every 60 years.

Year of the Goat or Sheep?

Since the goat and sheep are two entirely different species of animals, why do some Chinese zodiacs refer to a sheep and others a goat?

The reason is that the word for the eighth animal in the Chinese zodiac’s 12-year cycle of creatures, ‘yang’ in Mandarin, does not make the distinction found in English between goats and sheep and other members of the Caprinae subfamily. Without further qualifiers, ‘yang’ might mean any such hoofed animal that eats grass and bleats.

Another reason is that when the signs first evolved in ancient China, the breeds of sheep and goats in the area looked very similar. So alike that no distinction between the animals was made until much later. The zodiac sign applies equally to the description of a goat and sheep. Moreover, no distinction was made over whether the animal was male or female. Hence, some zodiacs also refer to the sign as a ram.

Geography can also make a difference. Sheep are raised in northern China, while goats are more common in southern China, which plays into what the year is called depending on one’s location.

The Longest Public Holiday in China

Officially, only the first three days of Chinese New Year (February 19–21, 2015) are statutory holidays. Chinese New Year’s Eve and three more days are always added to give seven consecutive days of holiday. These four extra days are taken from weekends: the weekend closest to the statutory holiday is included, while the Sunday before (February 15, 2015) and the Saturday after (February 28, 2015) are worked.

A Festival for Families to Be Together

Chinese New Year is a time for families to be together. Wherever they are, people come home to celebrate the festival with their families.

The New Year’s Eve dinner is called Reunion Dinner, and is believed to be the most important meal of the year. Big families – families of several generations – sit around round tables and enjoy food and time together.

chinese dumplings

Foods with Lucky Meanings Are Eaten

Certain foods are eaten during the festival because of their symbolic meanings, based on their names or appearance.

Fish is a must for Chinese New Year as the Chinese word for fish (鱼 yú /yoo/) sounds like the word for surplus (余 yú). Eating fish is believed to bring a surplus of money and good luck in the coming year.

Dumplings are very popular in Northern China. It is one of the main dishes for New Year’s Eve dinner. Conversely, very few people in Southern China serve dumplings for New Year’s Eve dinner.

New Year Cake is a solid cake made with glutinous rice flour together with some sugar. New Year Cake is popular in Eastern China.

Tang Yuan is a small ball made from glutinous rice flour. Glutinous rice flour is mixed with a small amount of water to form balls and is then cooked and served in boiling water. Tang Yuan can be filled or unfilled. It is traditionally eaten during Yuan Xiao, or the Lantern Festival (the 15th of the first month of the traditional Chinese calendar).

LaBa Congee is a mixture of rice, nuts, and beans cooked together. LaBa Congee is usually served at the LaBa festival, which is the 8th day of the last month of the year.

chinese lion dance

Chinese New Year Lion Dance

During the Chinese New Year, lion dance troupes from Chinese martial art schools visit houses and shops of the Chinese community to perform the traditional custom of “cai qing” (採青), literally meaning “plucking the greens”, whereby the lion plucks the green vegetables like lettuce either hung on a pole or placed on a table in front of the premises. The “greens” (qing) is tied together with a “red envelope” containing money and may also include fruit like oranges. In Chinese cǎi (採, pluck) also sounds like cài (菜, meaning vegetable) and cái (财, meaning fortune). The lion will dance and approach the greens and red envelope like a curious cat, to “eat the green” and “spit” it out but keep the red envelope which is the reward for the lion troupe. The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune to the business.
chinese lanterns
The Colour Red
Every street, building, and house is decorated with red. Red is the main colour for the festival, as it is believed to be an auspicious color. Red lanterns hang in streets; red couplets are pasted on doors; banks and official buildings are decorated with red New Year pictures depicting images of prosperity.

According to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nian or “Year” in Chinese. Nian would come on the first day of the New Year to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year and believed that after the Nian ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. Once, people saw the Nian was scared away by a little child wearing red, they then understood that the Nian was afraid of the colour red. Hence, every time when New Year was about to come, the villagers would hang red lanterns and spring scroll on windows and doors. People also used firecrackers to frighten the Nian and from then on, the Nian never came to the village again.

chinese red envelope

Red Envelopes — the Most Popular Gifts

During the Chinese New Year, young people who greet their elders with a happy and abundant new year are handed lucky red envelopes by the elders. These envelopes are really good luck for a youngster because these have money inside. The lucky red envelopes are called “hong bao” in Mandarin, or “lai see” in Cantonese.

Symbolism of giving a lucky envelope filled with money during Chinese New Year is considered lucky for both the giver and the receiver. Those who give will also invite the flow of money in during the entire year. Giving these envelopes also symbolize that the family luck is passed on to children and unmarried teens/adults. Red is the luckiest colour, as it symbolizes life, so it’s appropriate that Chinese New Year items are coloured red.

Hong baos/lai sees have assorted designs, such as that of happy children, Chinese characters for abundance and greetings, animals of the zodiac, etc. The Chinese word for red (“hong”) also sounds like “plenty”. Thus, it is believed that money wrapped in red will make money multiply. The money inside the hong bao is called Ya Sui Qian. Ya means suppress. Sui sounds somewhat like evil spirit. Qian means money. Therefore, Ya Sui Qian means money that can suppress evil.

Money in even amounts, except for 4, is considered lucky. Four is not a good amount to put into the lucky envelopes because the Chinese word for “four” sounds similar to the sound of “death”.


Happy Chinese New Year from all of us at The Sutton Place Hotels.

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