Ever since I was old enough to realize that people all didn’t look the same, sound the same, or like the same things, I have been fascinated by what made people different. One of my favorite words to use, think about, and write about is Culture, and one of the most telling and informative aspects of culture are the holidays that other cultures celebrate. While Americans and many other cultures across the world have already celebrated New Year, there is another culture that celebrates its own.
Chinese New Year is the product of a culture older, more prosperous, and more decorated than any other. It has so many cool aspects to it, from the denotations of the years, to the traditions they celebrate. This year, Chinese New Year is celebrated Saturday, January 28. I remember being a kid and getting little trinkets from my aunt, a first generation American, and my cousin’s grandmother from Chinese New Year celebrations. Gold coins for luck, fans to symbolize kindness and generosity, and calendars with the symbol for the New Year on it.
While Chinese culture has celebrated the beginning of a new calendar year on January 1 since 1912 and the adoption of the Western calendar, Chinese New Year has traditionally been a 15-day festival celebrating the start of the lunar-solar calendar. Today, the holiday is still referred to as Chinese New Year, but is known in China as Spring Festival. It is a celebration of a year of hard work, and prosperity. Very similar to why we celebrate New Year as well. Also, there is a heavy emphasis put on family, optimism, and happiness during the holiday. In the spirit of celebrating the Chinese New Year, I thought it would be cool to look into the intricacies of the holiday: the traditions, the animals, and the meanings behind all of it. I had help from a friend, Lauren Jeu and her family about how to celebrate the holiday like one of the culture.
The Color Red
Red is symbolic of luck, joy, good fortune, and happiness in Chinese culture. It is worn by brides, and NEVER worn at funerals. For the New Year, it is a popular color, but any bright color is acceptable. Black is avoided because of its ties to bad luck.
Like at Christmas for many people, Chinese New Year is a time to exchange gifts, primarily in the form of red money envelopes to bring good luck and fortune to family members. These envelopes are kept in pockets all day to keep this luck with their loved ones.
Food (the best part right?)
In my family, and many others in the South, the New Year traditions are the standard: cabbage or greens, black eyed peas, pork, and cornbread. Well, in the Chinese culture, these traditions translate to: chicken for fertility, noodles for longevity, rice, and sweet rice balls. Other food traditions are it being bad luck to mistreat or drop your chopsticks, and refills on rice are encouraged.
One of the most interesting things about Chinese culture is the emphasis on reverence to elders. As a southerner, I have always been taught to respect my elders, but the formality of reverence in Chinese culture is such a beautiful thing. For the New Year, it is customary to take apples and oranges to the host’s house, and to also serve tea to older loved ones.
The Year of the….
My favorite part of learning about Chinese New Year is the New Year Calendar, or the way the years are named for different animals (1995: year of the PIG!! 🙂 ) Every 12 years, the calendar repeats starting with the Rat. But all of the years and animals symbolize several different traits.
Rat: 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008,2020
Ox: 1973, 1985, 1997,2009, 2021
Tiger: 1974,1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
Rabbit:1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Dragon: 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964
Snake: 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965
Horse: 2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966
Goat: 2015, 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967
Monkey: 2016, 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968
Rooster: 2017, 2005, 1993, 1981, 1969
Dog: 2018, 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970
Pig: 2019, 2007, 1995, 1983, 1971
People born in the year of Rooster are said to be: observant, hardworking, courageous, and confident. They are very active, and talkative, but extremely loyal. They enjoy the spotlight and sports. Roosters are most compatible with: Oxes, or Snakes. They are least compatible with: Rats, Rabbits, Horses, and Pigs. Famous Roosters include:Bob Marley, Britney Spears, and Jennifer Aniston.
Each zodiac in the Chinese calendar are also broken down into elemental types. This year isn’t just the year of the Rooster, but the Fire Rooster (how cool is that?). Along with the traditional characteristics of all Roosters, Fire Roosters have a heightened sense of responsibility and trustworthiness. Martin Luther King, Jr. is actually a Fire Rooster, and based on these characteristics, there is no better example.
Cultures mix and meld together in so many unique ways. One of the most exciting things about life, especially in today’s society, is that we get to share and learn about cultures every day. Millions of people experience different beliefs, holidays, and traditions. Stepping out of the box of our own cultural bubble isn’t just important, but FUN. Trying a new ethnic food, or going to a ethnic festival opens up doors to whole new worlds (literally). In the wake of Chinese New Year, it is the perfect opportunity to step out of that bubble and experience a whole new view on the world, the year, and the people around us. Take that opportunity and work on having a better year, maybe even the best year yet. The year of the Rooster is a perfect time to do that: step out of your bubble, step into the spotlight and strut your stuff.
Gong Hay Fat Choy, Sun Nien Fai Lok!
“Happy New Year!”