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More Info on Chinese New Year


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Year of the Rat 2020

Kung hei fat choy (Cantonese)
Xīn nián kuài lè (Mandarin)
Saehae bog manh-i bad-euseyo (Korean)
Chúc mừng tết Nguyên Đán (Vietnamese)

Original artwork for Cultural Savvy by Nory Yamaguchi, Tokyo, Japan

2020 is a Year of the White Metal Rat according to the Chinese zodiac. Years of the Rat include 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020, 2032.... Each year belongs to a zodiac animal according to the 12-year cycle. The Rat occupies the first position in the zodiac. The Chinese New Year of 2020 falls on January 25. The festival will last to February 9th, about 15 days in total.

Note: The Lunar New Year is not only a Chinese tradition, but it's an event that's celebrated in many countries in Asia. In Vietnam, they celebrate Tết Nguyên Đán (Feast of the First Morning of the First Day) and in South Korea, they call the traditional holiday Seollal. All of the celebrations highlight many traditions and customs along with many special foods.

What to look for during Chinese New Year....

The first day of Chinese New Year, known as the "Spring Festival," begins with the New Moon, and lasts 15 days, ending with the Full Moon. The last day of the New Year is called "The Lantern Festival" and people celebrate by organizing a parade with children carrying lanterns. Chinese New Year, based on the lunar calendar, is not on the same day every year, as the cycles of the moon are different.

Preparations begin well in advance. The old year is ending so one must bring things to a close in order to welcome a new year and begin fresh. This includes paying off debts & settling accounts; evaluation of the past year and the failures & fortunes; spiritual and physical cleansing--getting rid of negative attitudes, cleaning one's home and office. 

During the celebration of New Years, people decorate with special banners, many of which are red and gold representing happiness and prosperity. Friendships are renewed, and gifts are often exchanged. A traditional gift that is given is small red envelopes (lai see in Cantonese, hong bao in Mandarin) filled with "lucky money". These envelopes are given to children by their family and friends.

There will be firecrackers and fireworks which the Chinese believe scare away evil spirits and bring in the new year without the misfortunes that evil spirits can bring.

The Chinese dine on special foods meant to bring prosperity, good fortune, longevity, and happiness. Numerous symbolic "lucky dishes" are eaten during Chinese New Year. Some important dishes include:

  • Dumplings & spring rolls = wealth
  • Longevity noodles = happiness & longevity
  • Whole fish = increased prosperity & abundance
  • Lion's head meatballs = power & strength
  • Rice cakes = better position and/or income
  • Tangerines/oranges = luck

The foundation of Chinese Astrology comes from Ying-Yang and The Five Elements - Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth. Various legends tell the story of the origins of the 12 Animals.According to one legend, the Buddha concluded that the Chinese nation needed reorganization and, at New Year, invited all the animals in the kingdom to attend a meeting. 

Only twelve animals showed up so to honor them, the Buddha bestowed each one with a year of its own. Each animal has its own personality and characteristics and many believe these characteristics apply to people based upon the year of their birth.

Another legend says the Ruler of Heaven and Earth, known as the Jade Emperor, wanted to find 12 guards for heaven and invited animals to a race. The challenge was crossing the heavenly river to get to the Emperor first. It is said that the RAT cheated by hopping on the back of the ox in order to cross the river. When close it jumped off and reached the shore and the finish line first.

The other animals crossed the line in order of ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig, and became the next 11 animals on the Chinese zodiac, each taking one year in the 12-year calendar.

Another legend says each animal used it special traits which are supposed to represent the individual personality assoiated with the zodiac year.

There are two cycles – the twelve-year cycle and the great cycle that lasts for 60 years. The great cycle is the combination of the twelve animals and the Five Elements, based on the five complete journeys of Jupiter. There are five variations of each of the animals. For example, a person could be born in the year of the Metal Rooster, Water Rooster, Wood Rooster, Fire Rooster or Earth Rooster.

One example of the importance of the 60 year cycle is Kanreki ("Kan" means cycle + "Reki" means calendar in Japanese).  It is a time for Japanese (and other Asian cultures) to celebrate their lives as they have completed the cycle - 12 years and 5 animals. The concept of "longevity" is very important in Asian cultures. 


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