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Lunar New Year 2011
Lunar New Year 2011
Asian cultures represent more than one-quarter of the world’s population, observe the lunar calendar. This year the Chinese year 4709 begins on February 3, 2011 and is the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit. In the lunar calendar, each month begins on the darkest day. New Year festivities typically start on the second new moon following the winter solstice and continue until the 15th, when the moon is its brightest. A month from the New Year it is a peak time for businesses in Asia, as people open their wallets to buy presents, decorations, food and clothing. Transportation departments, particularly railroads, anticipate the crush of travelers who take their days off around the New Year to return home from all over the country for a family reunion.
Background and Legend
Lunar New Year Is also commonly called the Spring Festival and has origins so old, it appears to be untraceable. It is commonly agreed thought that the word “Nian” (which in modern China simply “year”), was also the same word originally used for a beast that preyed on people the night before the New Year began. One certain legend recounts that the beast, Nian had a large mouth and could swallow many people in one big bite and regularly attempted to do so. One day an old man came to the village and offered to resolve the ongoing problem with Nian, the beast. The villagers were thrilled and he supposedly said to Nian, “Why do you swallow these people who are not even worthy opponents?” And, Nian turned his attention to more fierce creatures such as lions and tigers that had been also preying on the villagers’ domesticated animals. Following the old man’s intervention and Nian’s departure the people enjoyed a wonderfully peaceful time in their lives. They were faithful to follow the old man’s advice to put up red paper decorations on their windows and doors at each year’s end to scare away the Nian beast if he should try to return. According to the old man, the beast feared the color red because he thought it was fire, which would burn him.
Many of the traditions originating from this legend are retained, though few modern Asian families recount the origins of why red decorations play such a central role in the holiday or why loud firecrackers are required. It is based on the legend that to keep the beast Nian away, loud firecrackers are required at midnight on the eve of the New Year.
Days before the New Year arrives, each family is busy conducting a thorough cleaning of the home in the tradition of symbolically sweeping away any ill-fortune of the past year and to make way for the incoming prosperity and fortune. The evening prior to the New Year is carefully observed with a supper feast for many family members joining together. One most popular tradition is to have “JiaoZi” boiled in hot water. In Mandarin, “JiaoZi” has a literal meaning of“sleep together and have sons”. Other foods eaten sound like words for luck or good fortune. In China, kumquats are popular, since the color and sound resembles “gold”. In Vietnam, the New Year is known at “Tet” and the celebration foods vary, but soups and stews are quite common. After dinner in modern times the family will sit up and wait for the firecracker events at midnight, meanwhile playing games or watching TV programs aired specially programmed with celebrations to mark the occasion. At midnight, the whole sky is typically lit up by fireworks and firecrackers to mark the moment and tradition has it that the lights are to remain on for the whole night.
Early the next morning, children greet their parents and receive lucky money placed in a red envelope; this is “hong bao” in China and “ang pow” in Vietnam. The amount given must always be an even number. In previous generations during leaner times, this gift of money was the only gift children would receive all year and was meant to last the entire year for the children. Today, sometimes the tradition of giving this gift to family members can equal a significant portion of a worker’s salary if there are extended family members to whom to give.
The end of the New Year celebrations occurs on the fifteenth day of the year and during the first full moon of the year. People hang glowing lanterns in temples and carry lanterns to an evening parade under the light of the full moon. In many areas the highlight of the lantern festival is the dragon dance. The dragon which is made of silk, paper and bamboo is typically held up by young men who dance as they guide the best through the streets. In a new twist, many American Asian communities groups will often add a parade to the festivities. In Vietnam this day is also a Buddhist sacred day. After the Lantern festival is complete, the celebratory season is officially over and life returns to a typical daily routine again.
If you would like to share phrases for well wishes at your home, here are some:
- Mandarin: “Gong Xi Fa Cai! Xin Nian Kuai Le”
- Cantonese: “Gung Hay Fat Choy! Xin Nien Fy Lohk”
- Translated: “Wishing you (replacing “your”) prosperity! Happy New Year!”
- Vietnamese: “Chuc Mung Nam Mol”
- Translated: “Happy New Year!”
Whatever traditions you observe and however you celebrate the staff at Lotus Travel wishes your family a wonderful year of the Rabbit!!