The Gregorian calendar sent the world
into over-hyped frenzy over the millennium earlier this
month. And this year's Chinese lunar calendar will mark
the Year of the Dragon, the most powerful animal symbol
in the Chinese zodiac.
Where is Spring,where is Spring?
Spring hides in the laughter of children
Here are some red flowers
Here is a patch of green grass
And also a singing oriole
Di, li, li, li, li, li, li... Di, li, li, li, li, li,
- Where is Spring, popular Chinese
Okay, so there are no red flowers
in sight, the grass is hard as stale steamed bread (mantou),
and any orioles with Beijing residence cards are still
basking in the south. But trust us, Spring is on its
way even if the subzero temperatures are less than convincing.
Consider this: the start of Spring Festival, also known
as Chinese New Year, falls on Saturday, February 5 this
year, just a week away.
Chinese New Year is by far the most
important holiday in the Middle Kingdom's calendar,
followed by the Mid-Autumn Festival, National Day and
the NBA Finals. Even though the Spring Festival celebration
only lasts a few days, including New Year's Eve, the
season traditionally lasts 15 days, truncated from the
month-long celebration observed in traditional (pre-1949)
Coincidentally, or not, as the Gregorian
calendar sent the world into over-hyped frenzy over
the millennium earlier this month, the Chinese lunar
calendar will mark the Year of the Dragon, the most
powerful animal symbol in the Chinese zodiac. The only
mythical creature among 12 signs, the dragon is revered
by the Chinese for its magnificence and magical powers.
In contrast to the fire-breathing menace of Western
mythology, Chinese dragons are believed to be benevolent
creatures who live in the heavens and command the wind,
rain, thunder and lightning. Traditionally, the Year
of the Dragon is seen as a period of great potential,
auspicious events and dramatic change.
Passing the Year (guonian)
Endless legends surround the origins
of the New Year festival. The word nián, which in modern
Chinese means "year", originally referred to a brutal
beast that terrorized the people of the Middle Kingdom
just as they were preparing to celebrate the new year.
In one version of the story, an immortal god persuaded
the Nian to prey on other animals in the kingdom and
leave the humans be. Not trusting the beast, however,
the god instructed men and women to burn bamboo to keep
the monster at bay. He also advised hanging red paper
decorations in windows and doorways since red was the
color the Nian feared most. The term guėnián was coined
as a phrase to mean, "surviving the Nian monster." The
popping sound of burning bamboo was later replicated
each year with the cacophony of exploding firecrackers.
According to another legend, one
day a scorned and embittered household deity journeyed
to Heaven to ask the Jade Emperor to destroy the world.
As the Jade Emperor pondered the situation, the other
gods decided to visit Earth to warn humanity. Meanwhile,
fearing the prospect of imminent destruction, earthlings
stopped working and spent their last days throwing a
great feast instead. The gala lasted several weeks until
the other gods arrived. They reported back to the Emperor
that the Earth was a place full of mirth and deserving
of his mercy. Thus began the first New Year's celebration.
To this day household gods are "sent away" to Heaven
a week before the New Year so that in their absence
everything can be cleaned, repaired and rearranged.
Therefore, when the gods return they can witness a sparkling,
In ancient times, the whole house
had to be cleaned prior to New Year's Day. On New Year's
Eve all cleaning supplies were put away and no one was
allowed to clean on New Year's Day for fear that good
fortune would be swept away. It was also believed that
if one swept out dirt over the threshold, not only would
you be sweeping away the family's fortune, but also
one of your deceased family members. For this reason,
all dirt and dust must be disposed of through the back
All debts should be paid by the time
New Year rolls around and nothing should be loaned out
on New Year's Day or you will be stuck lending money
the rest of the year. Foul language and unlucky words,
such as the word "four", which sounds similar to the
word for death should be avoided. Also, one should refrain
from talking and reminiscing about the previous year
since it's best to look to the future.
Ushering in the New Year
In the days leading up to New Year's
Day, people spend time visiting friends, socializing,
and engaging in the age-old pastime of over-indulgence.
The entire family usually gathers on New Year's Eve.
For sons and daughters of all ages, this is ripe time
to fulfill the Confucian principle of filial piety.
Then, together, the family pays respects to ancestors,
placing pictures of the deceased in the center of the
house, surrounding them with burning incense, fruit,
snacks and gifts.
Although the official holiday only
lasts three days, many people take off a week or longer
to travel and gather with friends and family. This is
China's only three-day holiday, so unless you've booked
a month or two in advance, this is definitely not the
time to plan last-minute trips.
The massive meal eaten on New Year's
Eve is perhaps the most significant single activity
of the holiday. Everyone steps out in his or her best
outfit and gathers for a feast of jiaozi, dumplings.
In Chinese jiaozi literally means "sleep together and
have sons." According to traditional belief, eating
dumplings brings sons, wealth and prosperity. The ideal
dumpling contains a combination of meat, vegetables
and grain - all the ingredients necessary for health
and happiness in the new year. Sometimes one of the
jiaozi will have a coin or sweet tucked inside. Superstition
has it that whoever finds it will receive good luck.
Late New Year's Eve people go out
to visit friends and relatives to make sure they have
survived the nian, and to extend wishes for good health
and luck. Members of all generations pass the hours
playing cards and mahjong, and telling increasingly
far-fetched stories. One popular modern-day tradition
is watching the New Year's Eve television special Chunjie
Lianhuan Wanhui, a montage of Chinese folk songs, opera
pieces and comedy skits.
It used to be that at midnight the
sky would light up with fireworks and the air thickened
with smoke and the deafening boom and crackle of firecrackers.
Unfortunately - or fortunately for some - Beijing residents
no longer enjoy this ear-splitting, finger-severing
ritual ever since firecrackers were banned by the Beijing
municipal government in 1993. However, the ban only
applies to neighborhoods inside inner-city limits, which
means all you have to do is travel outside the Fourth
Ring Road to partake in pyrotechnic activities.
Then, either after New Year's Eve
dinner, or very early New Year's Day , gift-exchanging
begins. Children receive longevity money from adults
called yasuiqian, which literally means "money to press
down the years." The green and redbacks come in a small
red envelope called a hongbao, and can be presented
from any elder to someone younger.
Most adults exchange gifts such as
fruit, sweets or liquor, rather than money. Throughout
the day, and for several days afterward, people visit
one another offering blessings and unloading loot they
received from other people. There are generally believed
to be only six degrees of separation between all cream
cakes in China.
It all comes to an end on the fifteenth
day, which falls on Saturday February 19 this year.
This day is called yuanxiaojie, or the Lantern Festival.
The denouement is marked by ice lantern displays throughout
the city. Beijing's largest and most popular display
is held at Beihai Park. On the last day, festival-goers
treat themselves to a traditional dessert called tangyuan,
white glutinous rice balls filled with a thick sweet
lotus or sesame paste served in a bowl of boiling water.
The pristine, global shape of the rice balls symbolizes
reunion, reminding and memorializing one last time the
importance of the New Year, before everyone returns
to the busy, and increasingly separate, routines of
Year of the Dragon Divinations
MOUSE: [Born in] 1924,
1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984
Stop being mousy. It's time to tap into and unleash
your sense of style and panache. Also expect plenty
of opportunities to arise , but only if you remember
to maintain an equal balance between work and play.
OX: 1925, 1937, 1949,
1961, 1973, 1985
This year, even more than others, it would be wise to
avoid any bull and keep your head on straight. Although
it appears that the new year will be an easy one with
a bountiful harvest, it's important to keep that yoke
TIGER: 1926, 1938, 1950,
1962, 1974, 1986,
Tigers, get ready to show off your stripes. With your
vigor for life and creative force, you're sure to flourish
this year. Whether you're starting new projects or finishing
up old ones, expect to prosper under the Dragon's protective
RABBIT: 1927, 1939, 1951,
1963, 1975, 1987
Fulfillment, and yes, perhaps even fame, is heading
your way this year, Rabbits. Seize the opportunity to
hop discreetly onto the bandwagon, and perhaps even
become a star. Remember, however, to make your decisions
wisely, as your cozy rabbit hole may be safer than basking
in the limelight.
DRAGON: 1928, 1940, 1952,
1964, 1976, 1988
It's your year, so enjoy and feel free to let that beautiful
tail unfurl! Twelve years of on-and-off storms have
passed. You have every right to roar and indulge yourself
in the new year, Dragons. Plan carefully, think things
through and then strike up the band and send yourself
some flowers. Go somewhere warm with friends, open a
bottle of champagne and—for once—celebrate yourself.
SNAKE: 1929, 1941, 1953,
1965, 1977, 1989
Snakes, according to mythology, are sacred descendants
of dragons. As such, they tend to thrive in Dragon years.
Typically quiet, slow and passive, Snakes get to show
their true colors this year. Secretly fond of grandeur
and pageantry, you will have plenty of chances to charm
and mesmerize others over the coming months.
HORSE: 1930, 1942, 1954,
1966, 1978, 1990
Go forth into the crowd with your head held high this
year. Ambitions will be realized, but only if you keep
your wits about you. Seize all opportunities that come
your way; your efforts will be recognized. And remember,
projects don't always have to be perfect, just finished.
RAM: 1931, 1943, 1955,
1967, 1979, 1991
Goats gain ground during years of the Dragon. Jubilant
New Year festivities tickle and stimulate your rampant
imagination and lay the foundations for an exciting
year. The Dragon urges you to join it in prosperity.
Indulge yourself, but remember to look before you leap.
MONKEY: 1920, 1932, 1944,
1956, 1968, 1980, 1992
The reigning Dragon can always use a helping paw from
Monkeys. This year, in return for your hard work, get
ready for a successful and positive journey with the
Dragon watching over you. Your hot temper may get you
into trouble however, so if you must, throw those temper
tantrums when you're at home.
ROOSTER: 1921, 1933,
1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993
It's fine weather for Roosters all year long. The Dragon
relies on you to be extra inventive and sensible. If
you have been putting off big decisions that have been
hanging over your head for some time, make them now.
You will not regret it.
DOG: 1922, 1934, 1946,
1958, 1970, 1982, 1994
This year will be an interesting journey for all you
capable canines. You may not be at ease with the Dragon's
showiness and wonder why he celebrates himself in such
an arrogant manner. Though the Dragon's speeches seem
trivial, they may just hold some surprising news for
you. In other words, remember to always listen carefully
to advice. Then, make your own decisions.
PIG: 1923, 1935, 1947,
1959, 1971, 1983, 1995
This year's Dragon festivities may seem like much ado
about nothing. Watch from a distance, but do watch with
interest. All the pomp and circumstance is not as empty
as it may seem.