Kung Hei Fat Choy!
Trent Ernst, Editor
If you hear fireworks on February 10, don’t start cursing those kids down the street. Instead, take a moment to say Kung Hei Fat Choi in celebration of Chinese New Years.
While January 1 is the first day of the new year of the Western Calendar, the start of the Chinese year is also the start of the spring season.
Because the Chinese Calendar is lunisolar, meaning it takes into account both the solar year and the lunar cycle, the actual date, when mapped onto the western calendar, moves around.
Generally, the Chinese New Year falls around February 4 or 5. This year, it is February 10, while next year it will be January 31.
It is considered the most important traditional holiday, as it also marks the return of spring and the end of the winter season. It is often referred to as the Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year, and the Agrarian Ney Year.
Unlike most North American holidays, Chinese New Year lasts 15 days, beginning on the first day of the New Year, and ending with the traditional Lantern Festival. It is the longest festival in the Chinese calendar. In fact, most families gather for an annual reunion dinner on the eve of the new year, so it could be argued the festival is 16 days long, though even in China itself, most workers only take three days off, though many work the Saturday before and the Sunday after to allow for a full week off.
While there are wildly varying customs from region to region, an interesting way to look at the celebration is Chanukah, Christmas and New Year all rolled into one crazy 15 day celebration. According to Wikipedia, “people will pour out their money to buy presents, decoration, material, food, and clothing. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly cleanse the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck.”
Red is a lucky colour, and windows and doors are decorated with red colour paper-cuts and slogans on the themes of “good fortune” or “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity.” As mentioned, on New Years Eve, families gather for a feast, ending the night with firecrackers. In the morning, children will greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year, and receive money in red paper envelopes. The Chinese New Year tradition is to reconcile, forget all grudges and sincerely wish peace and happiness for everyone.
The Chinese calendar follows a 12-year pattern with each year named after an animal. The story is told that Buddha invited all of the animals to join him for a New Year celebration, but only 12 turned up. To reward the animals that did come, Buddha named a year after each of them in the order that they arrived, starting with the Rat, followed by the Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat (or Sheep), Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.
This coming year is the Year of the Snake. Traditionally, the Chinese calendar does not use numbered years, though there are three dating systems used by scholars. 2013 will be year 4650, 4710 or 4711, variously.
Each of the 15 days has significance and a different celebration. The seventh day, for instance, is Renri, when the world was created, and the day that every man turns one year older. But the most important day, after the first, is the last, when families walk by the light of the lanterns and children solve riddles that are written on lanterns at temples. While there are many different beliefs about the origin of the Lantern Festival, the festival now celebrates positive relationships between people, families, nature and the higher beings that were believed to be responsible for bringing or returning the light each year