Happy Chinese New Year! Gong Xi Fa Cai! A brand new year is in store and I'm so excited to see what will come next. Last year was the tumultuous year of the Tiger, a year of great change, so this year, the Year of the Rabbit, will welcome more peace and prosperity and happiness! Thank goodness! For those of you who don't know about Chinese new year, it falls this year on February 3, 2011. Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The 15th day of the new year is called the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated at night with lantern displays and children carrying lanterns in a parade. The Chinese calendar is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements. The lunar cycle is about 29.5 days. In order to "catch up" with the solar calendar the Chinese insert an extra month once every few years (seven years out of a 19-yearcycle). This is the same as adding an extra day on leap year. This is why, according to the solar calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are celebrated as a family affair, a time of reunion and thanksgiving. The celebration was traditionally highlighted with a religious ceremony given in honor of Heaven and Earth, the gods of the household and the family ancestors. The sacrifice to the ancestors, the most vital of all the rituals, united the living members with those who had passed away. Departed relatives are remembered with great respect because they were responsible for laying the foundations for the fortune and glory of the family. So Happy Chinese new year! Fun, friends, frolic and food is what this celebration is all about. The spirit underlying the diverse celebrations of the Chinese New Year is a sincere wish of peace and happiness for the family members and friends.
HISTORY OF CHINESE NEW YEAR
The Chinese New Year has a great history. In our past, people lived in an agricultural society and worked all year long. They only took a break after the harvest and before the planting of seeds. This happens to coincide with the beginning of the lunar New Year.
The Chinese New Year is very similar to the Western one, rich in traditions, folklores and rituals. It has been said that it is a combination of the Western Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year. This is hardly an exaggeration! The origin of the Chinese New Year itself is centuries old - in fact, too old to actually be traced. It is popularly recognized as the Spring Festival and celebrations last 15 days. Preparations tend to begin a month before the date of the Chinese New Year (similar to a Western Christmas). During this time people start buying presents, decoration materials,
and clothing. A huge clean-up gets underway days before the New Year, when Chinese houses are cleaned from top to bottom. This ritual is supposed to sweep away all traces of bad luck. Doors and windowpanes are often given a new coat of paint, usually red, then decorated with paper cuts and couplets with themes such as happiness, wealth and longevity printed on them.
The eve of the New Year is perhaps the most exciting part of the holiday, due to the anticipation. Here, traditions and rituals are very carefully observed in everything from food to clothing. Dinner is usually a feast of and dumplings, signifying different good wishes. Delicacies include prawns, for liveliness and happiness, dried oysters ( ho xi), for all things good, fish dishes or Yau-Yu to bring good luck and prosperity, Fai- (Angel Hair), an edible hair-like seaweed to bring prosperity, and dumplings boiled in water (Jiaozi) signifying a long-lasting good wish for a family. It is customary to wear something red as this colour is meant to ward off evil spirits. But black and white are frowned upon, as these are associated with mourning. After dinner, families sit up for the night playing cards, board games or watching television programmes dedicated to the occasion. At midnight, fireworks light up the sky. On the day itself, an ancient custom called Hong Bao, meaning Red Packet, takes place. This involves married couples giving children and unmarried adults money in red envelopes. Then the family begins to say greetings from door to door, first to their relatives and then to their neighbours. Like the Western saying "let bygones be bygones," at Chinese New Year, grudges are very easily cast aside. Tributes are made to ancestors by burning incense and the symbolic offering of foods. As firecrackers burst in the air, evil spirits are scared away by the sound of the explosions. The end of the New Year is marked by the Festival of Lanterns, which is a celebration with singing, dancing and lantern shows.
At the Festival, all traditions are honored. The predominant colors are red and gold. "Good Wish" banners are hung from the ceilings and walls. The "God of Fortune" is there to give Hong Baos. Lion dancers perform on stage continuously. Visitors take home plants and flowers symbolizing good luck. An array of New Years specialty food is available in the . Visitors purchase new clothing, shoes and pottery at the Market Fair. Bargaining for the best deal is commonplace!
Even though the climax of the Chinese New Year, Nian, lasts only two or three days including the New Year's Eve, the New Year season extends from the mid-twelfth month of the previous year to the middle of the first month of the new year. A month from the New Year, it is a good time for business. People will pour out their money to buy presents, decoration material, food and clothing. Transportation department, railroad in particular, is nervously waiting for the onslaught of swarms of travelers who take their days off around the New Year to rush back home for a family reunion from all parts of the country.
The Eve of the New Year is very carefully observed. Supper is a feast, with all members coming together. One of the most popular course is jiaozi, dumplings boiled in water. "Jiaozi" in Chinese literally mean "sleep together and have sons", a long-lost good wish for a family. After dinner, it is time for the whole family to sit up for the night while having fun playing cards or board games or watching TV programs dedicated to the ocassion. Every light is supposed to be kept on the whole night. At midnight, the whole sky will be lit up by fireworks and firecrackers make everywhere seem like a war zone. People's excitement reach its zenith.
Very early the next morning, children greet their parents and receive their presents in terms of cash wrapped up in red paper packages from them. Then, the family start out to say greetings from door to door, first their relatives and then their neighbors. It is a great time for reconciliation. Old grudges are very easily cast away during the greetings. The air is permeated with warmth and friendliness. During and several days following the New Year's day, people are visiting each other, with a great deal of exchange of gifts. The New Year atmosphere is brought to an anti-climax fifteen days away where the Festival of Lanterns sets in. It is an occasion of lantern shows and folk dances everywhere. One typical food is the Tang Yuan, another kind of dumplings made of sweet rice rolled into balls and stuffed with either sweet or spicy fillings.
FORECAST for 2011, YEAR OF THE RABBIT
A placid year, very much welcomed and needed after the ferocious year of the Tiger. We should go off to some quiet spot to lick our wounds and get some rest after all the battles of the previous year.
Good taste and refinement will shine on everything and people will acknowledge that persuasion is better than force. A congenial time in which diplomacy, international relations and politics will be given a front seat again. We will act with discretion and make reasonable concessions without too much difficulty.
A time to watch out that we do not become too indulgent. The influence of the Rabbit tends to spoil those who like too much comfort and thus impair their effectiveness and sense of duty.
Law and order will be lax; rules and regulations will not be rigidly enforced. No one seems very inclined to bother with these unpleasant realities. They are busy enjoying themselves, entertaining others or simply taking it easy. The scene is quiet and calm, even deteriorating to the point of somnolence. We will all have a tendency to put off disagreeable tasks as long as possible
Money can be made without too much labor. Our life style will be languid and leisurely as we allow ourselves the luxuries we have always craved for. A temperate year with unhurried pace. For once, it may seem possible for us to be carefree and happy without too many annoyances.
THE RABBIT PERSONALITY
A person born in the year of the Rabbit possesses one of the most fortunate of the twelve animal signs. The Rabbit, or Hare as he is referred to in Chinese mythology, is the emblem of longevity and is said to derive his essence from the Moon.
The Rabbit symbolizes graciousness, good manners, sound counsel kindness and sensitivity to beauty. His soft speech and graceful and nimble ways embody all the desirable traits of a successful diplomat or seasoned politician.
Likewise, a person born under this sign will lead a tranquil life, enjoying peace, quiet and a congenial environment. He is reserved and artistic and possesses good judgment. His thoroughness will also make him a good scholar. He will shine in the fields of law, politics and government.But he is also inclined to be moody; at such times he appears detached from his environment or indifferent to people.
The Rabbit is extremely lucky in business and monetary transactions. Astute at striking bargains, he can always pop up with a suitable proposal or alternative to benefit himself. His sharp business acumen, coupled with his knack for negotiation, will ensure him a fast rise in any career. The Rabbit usually has impeccable manners. He seldom uses harsh words and will never resort to foul language or vulgarisms to bring home a point. There is little need to anyway, as he has his own techniques. The Rabbit could hide under this cloak of decency to undermine his opponents. His credentials are usually flawless or at least in good order. He will wine and dine you in the best places and cater to your every whim when he is after something. Then, when you have eaten your fill and are puffing away contentedly at that expensive cigar, he will pull out the contract for you to sign. Before you know it, he has cut you off at the knees. He was so deft, you didn't even feel any pain. It was all over with the stroke of a pen. My sympathies are with you, friend. You are just another victim of the incomparable Hare. Now do you understand why Bugs Bunny always gets his carrots in all those cartoon strips?
The well-groomed Rabbit is most compatible with those born in the Sheep year. They will share the same good taste and love of material comforts. Equally well suited will be a relationship with the Dog person or the honest, unimposing Boar native. The Rat, Dragon, Monkey, Ox, Snake and Rabbit will make good secondary matches for him. But he will not be able to tolerate the vanity or criticism of the Rooster, is unimpressed by the dramatics of the Tiger and unappreciative of the quick-tempered and mercurial ways of the Horse.
To sum it up, the Hare simply leaps over obstacles in his path and recovers from calamities with remarkable resilience. No matter how he is tossed, he lands on his feet. He may not be close to his family but will make every effort to provide them with the best of everything. His soft, vulnerable-looking exterior is protected by an armor of cautiousness and sagacity. In life, the Rabbit will avoid being drawn into conflict at any cost, unless, of course, it affects him directly, at which time he will take the appropriate measures to protect his interests.
There is no great inner struggle in the Rabbit's heart between the forces of good and evil. He believes in his own ability to survive, relies on his own judgment and is at peace with himself. His is the sign most apt to find happiness and contentment. Go Rabbits!
Perhaps we should follow the characteristics of the Rabbit for 2011: seek peace, happiness, contentment in life, and hold no grudges. Take things easy and flow into life with the belief that you can and will receive all that you desire as things come easily to the Hare. I wish you all the best this Chinese New Year! May you dance to the tune of happiness and prosperity this Chinese new year! To quote William Arthur Ward:This bright new year is given me To live each day with zest To daily grow and try to be My highest and my best!