Celebrating the New Year
Chinese New Year celebrates the start of the Lunar New Year, falling on the first new moon between mid-January and late February. Also known as Chun Jie 春节, or the Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year is a huge public holiday in China with many traditions. Every year, millions of Chinese people travel to their ancestral home towns to welcome the New Year with their families—the biggest annual human migration in the world. Families spend the days leading up to the New Year cleaning their homes to sweep out the old and welcome the new. Bright festive red-and-gold decorations featuring the zodiac animal, coins and auspicious sayings adorn household doorways to attract good luck for the New Year. At midnight on Chuxi 除夕, or New Year’s Eve, people set off firecrackers and open all of the windows and doors to chase out the old year and usher in the new. Families enjoy a large meal together featuring traditional New Year dishes such as dumplings, fish, and nian gao 年糕(sticky rice cakes). Children receive hong bao 红包, bright red envelopes stuffed with money, from their relatives, as well as new clothes and haircuts. Chinese people wish each other a happy New Year by saying, “Gong xi fa cai! 恭喜发财！” (Congratulations and Prosperity) and “Xin nian kuai le! 新年快乐！” (Happy New Year).
What is the Chinese Zodiac?
The Chinese zodiac calendar follows a twelve-year cycle, with a different animal representing each lunar year in the cycle. According to legend, the Emperor of Heaven, also called the Jade Emperor, informed the animals that he was going to choose twelve animals to serve as calendar signs. The animals would be selected in the order that they arrived at his palace the following morning. In those days, Cat and Rat were best friends and neighbors. Cat asked Rat to wake him up on the day of the selection since he often had trouble waking up early. But that morning, Rat was so excited that he forgot his promise to his friend and ran straight for the palace. Worried that he would be too small and slow to make it in time, Rat convinced Ox to carry him to the gathering in exchange for singing a song. Ox was about to arrive at the palace first, but just before he crossed the finish line Rat jumped out in front of Ox, thus becoming the lucky first zodiac animal. Ox came in second, followed by Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and finally Pig. Rat’s neighbor Cat arrived too late to become a zodiac animal. Cat was furious at his friend’s betrayal, which is why today whenever Cat sees Rat he tries to kill him.
The Year of the Goat
2015 is the Year of the Goat, the eight zodiac animal. The character for goat, yang 羊, refers to all animals of the family Caprinae, which includes goats and sheep. For this reason, the Year of the Goat is also sometimes translated as the Year of the Ram or Sheep in English. In China, the zodiac animal yang 羊 tends to be thought of as a goat in the south and as a sheep in the north. According to the Chinese Zodiac, people who are born in the year of the goat tend to be peaceful, kind, and gentle. They get along well with others and strive for harmony, but can sometimes be too trusting and resistant to change. Goats are considered lucky animals, as the character for goat can be found in the character for auspicious (xiang 祥) and benevolence (shan 善). If you were born in the Year of the Goat (1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, or 2004), this year is your ben ming nian 本命年, an unlucky year. You should be extra cautious this year in order to avoid misfortune. Wearing red clothing and jade jewelry can help ward off bad luck.