Celebrations are 15 days, ending with Lantern Festival on 1/15, a full moon night. It used to last 4 weeks but now it is 3 to 4 days. Many people in China get 5 days off to celebrate – although they may have to work the weekend before or afterward. Xin Nian Kuai le! Gong xi Fa cai! Chun Jie Kuai le! Gung Hay Fat Choy Every community has different ways of celebrating. In American many Chinese families celebrate on the nearest Saturday, being sure to clean the house, decorate with red, share a meal together, and perhaps wear traditional clothes.
The next 12 year cycle of Chinese New Years starts with February 7th, 2008, the Year of the Rat. The Chinese New Year dates are: January 26, 2009, February 14, 2010, February 3, 2011, and January 23, 2012. If you want to do something at school, tell your child's teacher sooner rather than later - especially when it is so close to Valentine's Day they need to plan how to spend their time. Some parents are unable to go in when the teacher can support it and just send in (red) hong bao "goodie bags" as if it was a birthday. If you go in a lantern craft or parade, or a dragon to parade under is wonderful. Bring in some background music if you can.
How did Chinese New Year come to be celebrated? According to an ancient legend, once a year people were tormented by a beast called a Nian (a ferocious creature with an extremely large mouth) which was capable of swallowing several people in a single bite. Relief from the Nian came only when an old man tricked the beast into disappearing. Or scared it away with loud noises and red. In reality, New Years festivities probably evolved from a desire to celebrate the end of winter and the fertility and rebirth that come with the spring, much like the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. Today, New Year is about family reunions and wishing everyone good fortune in the coming year. (Nian is Mandarin for year. Xin Nian Kuai Le!)
Some Chinese traditions for welcoming the New Year and creating good fortune in the year ahead:
- BEFORE New Year’s: Clean your home, sweep away the bad luck of the year that's ending, get new clothes, get your hair cut. Plan out the food! Round food (fruits like oranges which are also gold color) are good. Fish, long life noodles, … Pay off any debts so you can start the year fresh. Decorate your home in red, the Chinese color for good luck.
- During the first days of New Year: DO NOT clean your home. You do not want to risk sweeping away the good luck of the New Year. Don’t wash your hair the first day, or get it cut in the first week or so.
- An important tradition on New Year's Eve is for families to gather together and spend the evening preparing jiaozi or boiled dumplings. According to Chinese Culture Guide Jun Shan, it is common to hide a coin in one of the dumplings. Whoever gets the dumpling with the coin will supposedly have good luck in the coming year. (perhaps only in his community?)
- Try to see as many of your family and friends as possible during the New Year celebration to spread good wishes for the coming year.
- Give out money packets - On New Years day, children receive “lai see” or “hong bao”- red packets decorated with gold symbols and filled with "lucky money”. If your bank has crisp new bills they are best to use.
- Serve and eat as many lucky foods as possible on the New Year. Some of these foods are whole fish, noodles and mandarin oranges. If you're not ready to cook Chinese food, most Chinese restaurants offer special New Year menus.
- Don't cry on that day or raise your voice to your children or you'll be setting a tone of discord for the coming year.
- Some fruit or flowers or candy for your Chinese teacher would be appreciated.
- Lanterns and couplets written on red paper are common decorations. Fu means fortune, and it is shown here on a lantern and also in cursive.
The Chinese Lunar Calendar names each of the twelve years after an animal. (Someone said perhaps that the years should more properly be numbered from 0 to 11!) The cycle is: rat/mouse, ox/cow, tiger, hare/rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram/sheep/goat, monkey, rooster/chicken, dog, pig/boar. That is within a larger 60 year cycle that started in 1984. 1996 was the start of the current 12 year cycle, 2008 will start a new one. Two years later, Feb. 14, 2010 will start the Year of the Tiger. Remember if someone was born between January 19th and February 21st, you can not tell their zodiac year unless you know the date of the Chinese New Year for their birth year. You may not want to discuss this in preschool classes – unless you are prepared for a very noisy room of animal sounds.
Some Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on personality, saying: "This is the animal that hides in your heart." Others use the zodiac just for fun. One legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. Only twelve came to bid him farewell and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. Another legend says that the years are named, in order, for the animals that raced for the Green Emperor.
There are a number of sites on the web with more information on the Chinese zodiac, Chinese New Year, and Chinese date converters. There are also solar to lunar date converters available for Palm Pilots.
Updated: March 2007