January 26th launches the year of the Ox on Chinese New Year. The actual holiday is celebrated for about two weeks, starting with the darkest day of the lunar month, and ending with the lightest. The last night is the Lantern Festival. Inside China, New Years is more often called "Lunar New Year". In Vietnam, it is called Tet.
The old legend says that one day Buddha invited all the animals to meet with him. His reward to the twelve animals who came was to name a year after each of them, and to say that anyone born in their respective year would embody the characteristics of that animal. (For a quick way to see what Chinese Zodiac animal sign you were born under, click here for a calculation and description.)
On New Year's people wear red clothes, send children "lucky money" in red envelopes and decorate with red decorations. Red symbolizes fire which is supposed to drive off bad luck. Fireworks are exploded for much the same reason -- to frighten off evil spirits.
During the many years that I lived in NYC, it was always great fun to go to one of the big dim sum parlors on New Year's weekend to catch the Lion Dragon parades that would swing into these big restaurants with drummers and dancers. These Lion Dragon groups were made up of local martial arts groups. The parades also ensure that evil spirits are frightened away.
Wikipedia says of this event:
Celebrated in areas with large populations of ethnic Chinese, Chinese New Year is considered a major holiday for the Chinese and has had influence on the new year celebrations of its geographic neighbours, as well as cultures with whom the Chinese have had extensive interaction. These include Koreans, Mongolians, Nepalese, Bhutanese, Vietnamese, and formerly the Japanese before 1873. In Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and other countries or regions with significant Han Chinese populations, Chinese New Year is also celebrated, and has, to varying degrees, become part of the traditional culture of these countries. In Canada, although Chinese New Year is not an official holiday, many ethnic Chinese hold large celebrations and Canada Post issues New Year's themed stamps in domestic and international rates.
Although the Chinese calendar traditionally does not use continuously numbered years, its years are often numbered from the reign of Huangdi outside China. But at least three different years numbered 1 are now used by various scholars, making the year 2008 "Chinese Year" 4706, 4705, or 4645.
There are a number of traditionally special behaviors thought to bring in or lose good fortune on New Years Day.
Cleaning: The house is entirely cleaned before New Years, but all cleaning elements like brooms are then put away. During New Year's Day, to sweep dirt out the door is thought to sweep out good luck as well.
Language: No use of profanity. No speaking of the number "4", or serving things in units of four, which in Chinese sounds like the word for "death" and is considered bad luck.One must not speak of the past or of death and illness, or it will sour the new year. One must not use words like "finished" because it references death.
Cutting off luck: No knives or scissors are used on New Year's Day.
Bringing in Good Luck or Sweetness: Eat sweets. If you have purchased them before New Years, wear new slippers. (It will mean that you step on people who gossip about you.) Open windows and doors to let luck in. Give away red envelopes with a new $1 bill as an omen of prosperity.
Yet there are reports that even China has felt the impact of with New Year's sales being far off last year's numbers, including travel expense for the busiest travel days in Chine (family reunions are part of Chinese NewYear tradition.)
JC writes from Malaysia and shares a picture of local shops decorated for New Year's.
Tea Stains a Bristish ex-pat living in Bangkok posts a series of photos of Bangkok's holiday decorations.
Mathia Lee blogging from Singapore, reviews the situation in America and Singapore with some hopefulness and then adds:
It’s hard to say Happy Chinese New Year, when this new year seems so bleak...
The one country that I’m REALLY VERY worried about is China
Given that it has 1/4 of the worlds’ population, and it’s the world’s 2nd largest economy, and that we, and lots of the world are dependent on China for much of our trade, I really hope for peace and prosperity within China
Looking at history though, people put up with oppressive regimes in times of prosperity — a trade of between freedom/justice and prosperity. People believe the lie that the sacrifice of human rights are necessary for prosperity. But when this prosperity disappears, what incentive is there to continue believing this lie?
Georgia S points out that President Obama was born in a year of the Ox (1961)which she says : ""gives him the characteristics of patience, dependability, hard work and determination, but with a spine of steel."
It was great as I looked at global sites to see so many people who were not Chinese, nonetheless blogging best wishes to their Chinese friends or to anyone celebrating Chinese New Years on their own blogs. I'm going to post my greetings similarly on my blog next.
But for now, Best Wishes to all for a prosperous, healthy, happy and soulful New Year!
~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also wishes you Happiness at at Time's Fool
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