Ok, so sorry I have not blogged since last year, but since I am ethnically chinese it is still the year of the ox and I am going dedicate my first blog of 2010 to the fist day of the Chinese calendar...
This sunday, 14 February 2010, is Chinese New Year, aka Spring Festival and the Lunar New Year (and of course, Valentines Day...).
Chinese New Year is one of, if not the most important festival for China, its people and its neighbouring countries (and those who choose to celebrate it in other countries too of course). It begins on the first day of the first month of the Chinese\lunar calendar and ends on the 15th (the Lantern Festival).
This year is the year of the Tiger and therefore those who were born in either: 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, or 2010 (for now...). As you may have noticed, the Chinese Calendar has a 12 year cycle, a cycle of the 12 zodiac signs: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.
According to lengend (though there are a few varying ones out there- this one is my fav), Lord Buddha called for all animals to come to him before his departure from earth, which resulted in a race the next day. The cat heard this and told the rat and they agreed to go together to Buddha the following day. However, the next day the rat did not wake the cat and left without him\her. The rat also tricked the ox into allowing him\her to ride on the ox's head but before reaching the finish line, the rat jumped off and was the first to reach Buddha. In return, Buddha named the first year after him. The ox arrived second and the rest in the order above (I'm an ox, the true winner if you ask me...). Each zodiac sign, like the astrological zodiac signs, has their own personality traits and characteristics (click here) .
Legend also has it that a mythological creature called Nian would come on the first day of New Year and eat livestock, crops and even villagers and children. The villagers would put food in front of their doors to protect themselves to prevent Nian from attacking. Loud noises, bright lights and the colour red were soon also discovered to prevent Nian from attacking and hence, the tradition of loud firecrackers (really loud), red lanterns, clothing, and scrolls, and feasts of food, were born.
It is tradition that parents and older family members give those in the younger generation a 'hong bao' (or red envelope) with money in it, to bring luck and prosperity. Younger generations traditionally kow tow to their parents\older generations while chanting 'gong qi fa chai' (a literal translation is 'wishing you enlarge \getwealth) in request for a hong bao.
New clothes and in particular, red clothing, are typically worn to warn away evil spirits, symbolise a new beginning and to bring luck and propserity, particularly if it is 'your year'.
In my family, we eat a fabulous dinner at regular dinner time, drink and be merry. We then prepare fresh dumplings for midnight and put a few coins in some! Then we EAT and EAT and DRINK. And if you're lucky enough, you might get the dumpling with the coin bringing UBER luck, prosperity and wealth.
Xin Nian Kuai Le- Gong Qi Fa Chai!