In four days, approximately 1.4 billion Chinese people will celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Monkey as the Chinese New Year begins.
Even though the Chinese have adopted the Gregorian calendar used by the rest of the world, their traditional calendar is used for celebrations, festivals and horoscopes. It is based on movements of the moon, and Chinese New Year always falls somewhere between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20.
According to www.worldometers.info, China has almost 1.4 billion people, equivalent to almost 19 percent of the total world population, so a vast number of people will be enjoying their holiday and taking time away from work and school over the next couple of weeks. If you add to this the many people of Chinese heritage celebrating around the world, there will be perhaps 2 billion people having a party. For example, the extravagant celebrations in Chinatown in London are really very impressive. At least we have the Super Bowl to console ourselves with here!
I have written about Chinese horoscopes before, but I wanted to dig a little deeper into the traditions and customs of this culture. Chinese New Year is also known as Spring Festival and has been celebrated for more than 4,000 years. With a focus on family, food, rituals and gifts, it might appear to have similarities to our Western Christmas and New Year, but scratch beneath the surface and there are many different customs and a major focus on good-luck symbols.
For example, most of the lavish decorations are bright red because red is considered to be the luckiest color of all in China. Homes, streets and most public areas are festooned with red and gold. Red packets or envelopes of “lucky money” called hongbao are traditionally given to children. This dates back to ancient legends when lucky money was given to ward off evil spirits.
Instead of feasting on turkey or ham and pecan pie or Yule log, the elaborate menus and traditions of the Chinese are fascinating. The New Year’s Eve dinner — known as the Reunion Meal (as families gather from far and wide) is considered to be the single most important meal of the year for Chinese families.
The classic Chinese New Year meal, and the superstitions and rituals around it, are fascinating. Firstly, there is a concern about numbers. The number 4 is considered by the Chinese to be bad luck and represents death, so they never display or serve four of any one dish or major ingredient. However, the number 8 is a very lucky, so they try to group snacks and main dishes in sets of eight.
As for the food:
• Oranges are said to bring wealth and luck. The Chinese word for gold sounds like orange.
• Long noodles symbolize long life, and long beans and leafy greens are also served to bring long life to all in attendance, particularly parents.
• Fish is on the menu, and served whole with head and tail attached to represent a good start and finish to the year. The Chinese word for fish sounds like abundance.
• Chinese “year cake” is made of glutinous rice flour, brown sugar and oil, and is steamed. The Chinese word for the name of these cakes — gao — sounds like the word for high, so these cakes symbolize achieving new heights in the coming year. Serving desserts is important, as this also represents enjoying a sweet life in the new year.
I leave you with a quote from the great Chinese philosopher Confucius: “Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.”
Happy Chinese New Year, and God bless America!