Over 1.3 billion people in China and millions of Chinese around the world celebrate the first day of the Chinese New Year today. It’s the most important of Chinese holidays, kicking off a celebration that lasts for fifteen days and culminates with the Lantern Festival. Each year is associated with one of twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac. For 2013, it’s the Year of the Snake.
Gong Xi Fa Ca! That’s the traditional Chinese New Year greeting that means “wishing you prosperity”.
The Chinese calendar is lunisolar, a combination of solar and lunar calendars. It has a long history spanning several Chinese dynastic rules from as far back as the Shang Dynasty around fourteenth century B.C.E.. There are several different symbolic cycles within the calendar, used in Chinese astrology, that make it an intricate and complex measure of time. Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year (in the Gregorian calendar) between January 21 and February 21.
Each year of the Chinese lunar calendar is represented by one of 12 animal symbols of the Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar. For 2013, it’s the Snake’s turn. The Snake is sometimes called a junior dragon, because of its dragon-like appearance. According to Chinese astrology, people born on the year of the Snake (Snake years are: 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001) are said to be keen and determined. They are said to know how to maneuver themselves toward their own destinies and destinations. They are said to be sophisticated and calm and not outwardly emotional, but they might have a touch of paranoia at times. China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong was born in the year of the Snake.
Chinese New Year celebrations traditionally lasts 15 days, from the first day (during a new moon) to the 15th day (a full moon). Each day holds a special significance that varies according to local traditions. But first, before the arrival of the new year, homes are thoroughly cleaned to sweep away ill fortune, and to welcome good luck. On New Year’s Eve, there are family gatherings to celebrate and enjoy sumptuous traditional feasts, and to greet the new year with fireworks at midnight.
In the days that follow, festive dance parades are held featuring colorful dragons or lions, ceremonies are held to pay homage to deities and ancestors, children receive money in red envelopes, gifts are exchanged, extended family members visit each other, and there’s more traditional feasting.
The celebration culminates on the 15th day with the Lantern festival; on this night of the full moon, families mingle in the streets carrying lighted lanterns, often creating a beautiful light display.