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Looking Ahead to the Chinese New Year — Year of the Earth Dog

Unlike New Year’s Day, which occurs on January 1st every year, the Chinese New Year changes each year based on the lunar cycles — falling anywhere between January 21st and February 20th. This year, it will be celebrated on February 16th. This will be the year of the Earth Dog.

As the holiday approaches, we take a look at the significance of the holidays, as well as its traditions and celebrations.

 

What Year is It?

Each new year is represented by an animal, each with its own significance. These animals, which make up the Chinese Zodiac, include the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. The animals were also separated into categories, yin and yang, depending on number of claws, toes, or hooves. Afterwards, they were arranged into an alternating sequence. The year 2018 is considered The Year of the Dog.

 

 

The History of the Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese zodiac consists of animals which were popular during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.). These animals were also featured in artifacts dating back to the Warring States Period (475 – 221 B.C.), a period marked by disunity as the various factions fought for control. Astronomy and astrology have played a major part in Chinese culture, and it is believed that rulers must be accurate in astronomical matters to rule well and with prestige, as well as ensuring harmony of everything under the heavens.

 

The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese, however, have a fascinating legend concerning the Chinese Zodiac and the development of the Chinese calendar.

In ancient times, the Jade Emperor (or Buddha in some versions) decided to make animals a part of the calendar. He summoned all of the animals of the universe for a race, determining that the first twelve to arrive would be chosen. Some of the animals got into mischief along the way, while others engaged in heroic feats.

As the snake and horse approached a river, the snake hid on the horse’s hoof so that it could cross. After reaching the other end of the river, the snake frightened the horse in order to get ahead. The dragon was not as sneaky and underhanded, however. He proved himself to be honourable and altruistic. He could have very easily won the race due to his ability to fly, but he stopped along the way to help villagers caught in a flood.

The rat convinced the ox to carry him on his back on the condition that the rat sang throughout their journey. The ox happily obliged, but the underhanded rat climbed up the ox at the end of the race and won by a nose. Prior to this race, the cat and the rat were companions who got along very well. However, by the time the cat arrived, the twelve animals had already been selected. The discovery that his friend had won through trickery angered the cat, who has held a grudge against the rat ever since.

 

 

Chinese New Year Traditions and Superstitions

Chinese New Year celebrations include reunion dinners with relatives, firecrackers, new clothes, decorations, and presenting one another with red envelopes. Tradition plays an important part in Chinese culture, and certain foods are a staple during these celebrations, similar to the Irish tradition of cooking of corned beef and cabbage. In Northern China, dumplings are served on the eve of the Chinese New Year, while spring rolls and rice cakes are served south of the Yangtze River.

 

A week before the new year begins, the people of China traditionally clean their homes thoroughly to symbolize a fresh start and the desire to put the past behind them as they enter he new year. Homes, buildings, and streets where the Spring Festival is celebrated are decorated in red, as the colour is believed to be auspicious. Red lanterns adorn the streets, red couplets are hung on doors, and official buildings are decorated with red posters depicting images of prosperity.

 

It is believed that the beginning of the year sets the tone for the remainder of the year as well. The various customs, colours, and activities associated with the New Year are considered lucky and therefore used to bring positive energy into the lives of all. However, there are various tasks and items that are considered taboo, and the Chinese avoid these during the New Year.

  • Porridge – Porridge cannot be served or consumed, as it is believed to bring poverty.
  • Unlucky words or topics of discussion – It is a popular belief that if you speak of death, you call upon it. Certain words and phrases have negative connotations, and they are especially avoided during the New Year, as a year that begins with talk of death may be filled with it as well.
  • Washing hair and clothing – It is customary to refrain from washing one’s hair or clothing, as it “washes away good luck.”
  • Needlework and sweeping – These are also taboo, as they deplete, or sweep away, wealth.
  • Crying – Crying is thought to bring bad luck, especially during the Spring Festival.
  • Breaking dishes – this is also thought to attract bad luck.
  • Scissors or knives – These are not used during the Spring Festival, as they “cut wealth.”
  • Killing animals – This is believed to bring misfortune.
  • Clothing that is black or white – These are considered unlucky colours.
  • Lending or borrowing money – Lending or borrowing money is believed to attract debt.
  • Hospital visits and medication – Hospitals and medication are avoided, as they may bring illness throughout the year.

 

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