Chinese New Year

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Chinese New Year

 



On the 23rd of January 2012, one billion-plus Chinese worldwide welcomed the Year of the Dragon, the magnificent mythical creature that symbolizes leadership, intelligence and charisma. New Year celebrations hold prime position in the Chinese festival calendar, reaffirming the traditions of an ancient civilisation.

Signs and Dates
In the Chinese lunisolar calendar, one month equals a lunar cycle, beginning with the new moon. Uniquely, the calendar rotates through a 12-year cycle, with each year represented by an animal from the Chinese zodiac, the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.

Mythology
The Chinese New Year greeting, “Guo Nian!” means “May you outlive Nian.” According to legend, Nian was a monstrous predator who attacked villages on the last night of the year to kill people and lay waste their land. One year, the villagers on the advice of an old man, set bamboo alight, burst firecrackers and banged on drums. The ensuing cacophony frightened Nian away. The old man, a god in disguise, advised the people to henceforth display red paper lanterns in their windows and light firecrackers every year to keep Nian at bay.

Festivities and Cuisine
New Year’s Eve is marked by extended family gatherings over a lavish dinner. Families pay their respects to ancestors and honour household gods.

The dominant theme of Chinese New Year is good fortune. While businesspeople pray for commercial success, students seek academic brilliance and singles hope for love.

Festival cuisine reflects the mood of optimism. A special set of dishes known as Jai includes gingko nuts, used to prepare Buddha’s Delight, a vegetarian aphrodisiac. There’s also dried tofu, bamboo shoots and black moss. Uncut noodles symbolise longevity. Tiny “prosperity cakes” resembling gold nuggets are a traditional dessert. Tangerines, oranges and persimmon represent health, longevity and prosperity.

Practices
Before the New Year, householders embark on a cleaning spree. Old debts are settled and lingering differences among family members, colleagues and neighbours are resolved, to start the New Year with a clean slate.

The colour red is all important. Visitors, children especially, receive lee see, red gift envelopes, containing crisp, new currency notes.

Lantern Festival
The celebrations climax on the fifteenth day with the Lantern Festival. Beneath a full moon, Chinatowns worldwide are aglow with pumpkin-shaped, red paper lanterns. Craftsmen display stunningly beautiful lanterns inspired by mythological flora, fauna and zodiac signs. Dragon dances are staged in many cities worldwide with significant Chinese communities. Pageants, folk dances, opera, puppetry and fire-breathing performances draw huge crowds into the streets.

The Lantern Festival culminates in an awe-inspiring display of fireworks, bringing to an end, a fortnight of family bonding, feasting and merriment.

 

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