Chinese New Year

This historically rich holiday dates back centuries and is deeply rooted in legend. No one really knows when the first celebration was initiated but it's believed to have begun sometime in the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC - 1100 BC).

The start of the New Year changes every year and is dictated by the Chinese calendar. The calendar first introduced by Emperor Huang Ti in 2637 BC is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements and consists of sixty year cycles. Each year the celebration starts with the new moon, the first day of the New Year, and ends on the full moon 15 days later.

The origins of the Chinese New Year are based on the legendary story of a monster named Nian (in modern China the word means simply "year"), a large mouthed monster that began to victimize people on the eve of the New Year. One day an old man came to the peoples' rescue by tricking Nian with his wit and the monster no longer was a threat. The old man, believed to be a god, and the monster disappeared together and the people returned to their peaceful existence.

The legend has little to do with the Spring Festival, the popular modern day term used for the holiday, although some of the rituals are still practiced. Placing red decorations on doors and windows and lighting firecrackers originated as a way to scare off Nian. Today hanging red scrolls and red paper cut outs send messages of good luck, harmony, prosperity and peace for the year ahead. Firecrackers, the custom most often tied to the celebration, were banned sometime ago in larger cities as officials took security, pollution and noise into consideration. They have been replaced by soundtracks, balloons being popped or most often hanging decorations that look like fireworks.

The Festival has always been family centered and is a time of reunion and thanksgiving with joyful gatherings and an abundance of traditional foods, not much different than our Thanksgiving. Food plays an important role and the entire family pitches in to prepare for the feast. Dishes vary by region but are sure to include buns, special cakes, dumplings, vegetables, chicken, fish and noodles. Chickens are served whole, with head and feet, to signify completeness while noodles are kept uncut representing long life. The abundant eating continues throughout the festival until the 13th day of the celebration when you cleanse your system of all the rich foods that have been consumed with a simple meal consisting of rice congee and mustard greens.

Each day of the celebration signifies something different. During the second day, the Chinese are extra kind to dogs and feed them well based on the belief that this is the birthday of all dogs. On the fourteenth day, preparations are made for the important Lantern Festival which is the final celebration of the New Year.

Honoring the family's ancestors was long considered the most important element of the celebration. The family's ancestors were recognized as the foundation of the fortune and grandeur the family enjoys and were remembered with prayer and offerings. Held on New Year's Eve, the weilu or "surrounding the stove" was a communal feast symbolizing family unity and way of honoring past and present generations.

The Chinese New Year is the most important celebration in China today but much has changed. The celebration in today's China is much more subdued than that of generations past. Sacrifice and prayer to the gods and ancestors, once considered the most important element of the holiday, have been replaced by shopping and visiting. And while family and ancestors are still looked upon with great respect and honor, the physical symbolism is absent in celebrations of today.

Understanding the Chinese Lunar Calendar

The first cycle of the Chinese lunar calendar was introduced in 2637 BC and originated with Emperor Huang Ti. The complete calendar cycle consists of sixty years, broken into five twelve year cycles. Currently we are in the 78th sixty year cycle which began February 2, 1984 and ends in the year 2044 bringing in the new millennium.

The Chinese saying "this is the animal that hides in your heart" is coined from the strong belief that the animal that rules the year of your birth has a tremendous impact on who you are, what your character traits are and who you should team up with, greatly affecting your life.

This year's celebration is all about the Boar, the twelfth sign in the Chinese lunar calendar.

Are you a boar? If not, what lunar animal hides in your heart? Find out what your lunar sign is and what characteristics and traits it brings to your personality.

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