Happy Chinese New Year

Celebrating The Year of The Monkey

Happy New Year (again)! Though in America we’ve been in our New Year for over a month now, Monday marked the first day of the Chinese New Year. This holiday is the largest and most celebrated in the Chinese culture. But here in America, we aren’t as familiar with this tradition. Since this is the Year of the Monkey, the 9th animal in the Chinese zodiac cycle (more on that later), we’re answering nine questions about the Chinese New Year.

Why is Chinese New Year celebrated on a different day than the American New Year?

While the Chinese, like the rest of the world, now follow the international Gregorian calendar, the lunisolar calendar maintains traditional significance in the Chinese culture. In this calendar, the first day of the New Year falls on the new moon between January 21 and February 21. So in 2016, the Chinese New Year begins on February 8th.

How long do the celebrations last?

There are 15 days of New Year celebrations that are filled with various traditional cultural activities. These activities begin on New Year’s Eve with a large family dinner. Each day following has a theme and its own specific traditions (you can get all the details on Wikipedia). The celebrating concludes on the 15th day of the New Year with the Festival of Lanterns where all types of lanterns are lit throughout the streets, and often poems or riddles are written on them for entertainment.

Oh, so it is celebrating more than just a new year?

Yes! Unlike the drunken revelry that accompanies the traditional American New Year, the Chinese New Year is about family. According to Time magazine, on Sunday night – Chinese New Year’s Eve – the streets of Hong Kong were quiet as locals gathered in their houses for “reunion dinners’ with family members who’ve returned home.

What are some of the Chinese New Year traditions and activities?

Chinese New Year is a time when many people think about building up luck for the year to come. Some families avoid doing certain things so that they don’t unwittingly set a precedent for the entire year. For example, people won’t wear old, damaged clothing as it is seen as bad luck. And some families won’t do laundry or take out the trash as they don’t want to throw away their good fortune. Other traditions include dragon dances, parades, firecrackers and giving out red envelopes filled with money.

Wait, there are gifts involved?

Yep. During the New Year’s Eve dinner, parents give unmarried children envelopes filled with money. These envelopes are called hong bao and are the color red, which denotes good luck, fortune, happiness and abundance in the Chinese culture. Side note: if you are single, working and making money, you also have to give the younger kids the hong bao money, according to History.

Why all the red decorations and dragons?

According to Time magazine, the color red represents good fortune in the Chinese culture. So around the Chinese New Year, the color can be seen in decorative elements such as lanterns, paper cutouts and dancing dragons. Dragons represent prosperity, good luck and good fortune in the Chinese culture as well. Many Chinese celebrations include the dragon as the Chinese people often think of themselves as descendents of the mythical creature.

Where do all these traditions come from?

All the traditions that are kept throughout the 15 days of the Chinese New Year are derived from various Chinese mythology and history. For example, the Festival of Lanterns that marks the end of the Chinese New Year has conflicting origins. Some believe that this is the birthday of Tianguan, the Taoist god of good fortune. Others say the lanterns are related to the legend about the Jade Emperor, according to Huffington Post.

It’s the Year of the Monkey, what does that mean?

While the Western zodiac is divided into 12 months, the Chinese zodiac is divided into 12 years, with each year being represented by a different animal. According to the Huffington Post, tradition holds that people are influenced by the characteristics of the animal that rules their birth year. So, children who are born during the Year of the Monkey are said to be intelligent, clever, gregarious and mischievous. They are skilled and smart, but also are said to have a quick temper and a touch of arrogance. Now days, Chinese New Year celebrations have spread far beyond the borders of China. In New York, for instance, all public schools were closed on Monday to commemorate the holiday and New Yorkers enjoyed an amazing fire works show. Look for Chinese New Year events in your city and you can celebrate with the numerous cultures that hold these traditions sacred.

How do the Chinese people have time for all this celebrating?

Well, if you’ve ever been in a manufacturing business that handles production in China, you know very well that during Chinese New Year, all businesses close down. The Chinese government has instituted a week-long public holiday to celebrate the New Year, giving people a chance to return to their hometown, visit family or take vacations abroad. What can we say? The Chinese really know how to do New Year right! Do you agree? Tell us in the comments.