Happy New Year? It’s already February!
Yes. You’re right. It is. But, today is Chinese New Year. Today, begins the Year 4709 on our calendar and it is the Year of the Hare/Rabbit in our Chinese Zodiac.
What do you mean it’s the Year 4709?
Yep… our calendar began many many moons ago. I can’t even begin to explain it all to you. I’m not even really entirely sure I understand it all, but WebExhibits gives a pretty good explanation about the Chinese Calendar. You can take a look at their information there. After you read it, you can come here and explain it all in layman’s terms – I’d be most appreciative!
So, back to Chinese New Year. I really hate to call it “Chinese” New Year. Why? Because a lot of other cultures around the world celebrate this New Year, so I think it should really be called Lunar New Year. The Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese (to name a few) all celebrate the Lunar New Year. But the reason why it’s called Chinese New Year is basically because they say it was started by the Chinese. Legend has it that Chinese New Year celebrations began because of a mythical monster named Nian. On the first day of the New Year, Nian came to eat animals, food and even people (with a particular interested in kids). The townspeople would protect themselves by putting food outside their front door because they believed Nian would going from house to house to eat all their food, get full and then leave thereby saving people from being eaten. On one occasion, the people noticed Nian was scared away by a child wearing read. And so, it began – wearing red, hanging red lanterns, burning firecrackers all in the name of scaring Nian away at the beginning of every New Year. This, I think, is a scary story told to our children over the years, but who know. I can’t lie, that I’ll probably tell this story to my Lil man too.
If there’s one thing we don’t have a lack of in our culture it’s stories. Many are superstitious in nature, but nonetheless fun to tell. Other less legendary stories say that our People celebrated each New Year to honor the gods in hopes that they would give us plentiful crops for the year to come. You can read more about this less animated story at About.com.
Over the years, many different rituals have been added to the mix. In my family as well as many of my friends, we love the New Year, but dislike the chores of preparation – we have to clean the house! Dust every corner, vacuum, put up decorations, buy mandarin oranges to put in every room, do all the laundry, put out the trash and change the sheets – on EVERY bed and EVERY room – all before midnight of the first day of New Year. Why? It’s been said that we’re dusting out the old and bad things before the New Year. Then on New Year Day we’re supposed to open the windows in the house (not all the way of course) to invite the New Year into our homes so it can bring good luck and NOOOOOOO dusting or cleaning. If you dust or clean, you’re dusting out the newly brought in good luck!
But we all know Chinese New Year is about the food! No really… everything in our culture is about food… or rather… family. Traditionally, we’re supposed to celebrate Chinese New Year for 15 days, but it’s really 16 days because the night before New Years we have a family dinner where we all gather together to kick off the new year and eat special food. Each day there’s something different we’re supposed to do and there are many many many (did I say MANY?) rules we have to follow. The gist of the first 15 days of the New Year is spending time with family, paying respects to our elders and, of course, don’t forget to pray and thank the gods while also asking them for another wonderful year. Wikipedia has a listing of all the things we are supposed to do each of the 15 days – it’s toward the middle of the page or so, but you can read the entire listing for all the details, but make sure you come back because I want to explain all the eating rules we have to follow! So, I’ll wait for you here.
You’re back! I thought you might not come back. ^_^ Thanks for coming back!
- DO NOT – I repeat do not put your chopsticks vertically into your bowl of rice – if you do it means your wishing death upon you and everyone else. If you’re eating at someone’s house you want to lay them flat on the table. At a restaurant, they give you those cute little chopstick holders so lay them down on those.
- Never turn over your fish – if you do then you’re emptying our your boat. The fish represents a boat, by turning it over you’re wishing everyone in it that they drown. When one side has no more meat, you need to take the bones off rather than flipping it over to get the meat on the other side.
- When ordering food, make sure you order an even number of dishes – odd numbers are reserved for funerals – odd numbers = death (are we getting the picture that we are afraid of death? We just don’t want to invite him in prematurely).
- Don’t bit into your noodles – Every Chinese New Year meal includes noodles (in fact, every wedding celebration does too). Noodles represent longevity, so when you eat noodles don’t bite into them mid-noodle. You have to eat the whole strand. If you bite it off, you’re cutting your life short.
- Don’t drop your chicken – this may very well be something that only exists in my family, but I was told I can’t drop the chicken when I’m eating because you’re dropping your money or life away – or something to that effect.
What about the money I’m hearing about????
Yes, Chinese New Year, does in fact include money. BUT that’s not the whole purchase of our celebrations. As I said earlier, it’s more about celebrating the new year, being with friends/family, etc. So, why the money? Our little red packets are called lai sze (lai see) in Cantonese. Elders give them to their children, grand children or people in their family or circle of friends that are unmarried. The rule of thumb these days is basically, either your older or married to give away lai see. And no, you don’t give them to your peers – meaning anyone in your “generation”. It’s understood that you just give them to children or the next generation after you, so nieces, nephews, sons, grand children, friends’ children, etc. The money in the lai see presents putting away evil spirits. So the person giving the lai see will wish you a happy new year along with other blessings thereby asking the gods to help ward off evil spirits in your life. With this said, it’s always proper etitiquette to say thank you and to wish them a happy new year and a healthy and long life to come.
WOW! I’ve written much more than I wanted to, so with that said, I’m going to close it off here. You can hit up the Wikipedia page I mentioned earlier for more info and details. They have a great page on the Chinese zodiac also. Go check out which animal you are and come back and let me know – I was born in the year of the Horse. And last, but not least…Gung Hay Faht Choy… Wishing you and your family a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year.