A Year of Good Health, Happiness and Prosperity

Tumisang Mothei

 The Lion Dance is a popular traditional Chinese dance performance

Sunday February 18 officially marked the end of the biggest and most precious holiday in the Chinese calendar, the Spring Festival, which has been described as the largest human migration in the world as hundreds of millions of Chinese people make their way home to celebrate the auspicious occasion with friends and family. In China, the Spring Festival, or Chinese Lunar New Year as it is commonly known, is a time for family gatherings, burning joss sticks, hanging big red lanterns with the golden tassels, and consuming copious amounts of delicious homemade food.

Officially, the Chinese New Year runs for three days, although celebrations often times continue for about two weeks beyond the last day. Unlike many countries in the Western World, which begin the New Year on January 1, the date of the Chinese New Year differs from year to year, but always falls between January 21 and February 20 around the new moon. The reason behind this is that the holiday marks the beginning of the lunar New Year. Based on this calendar, celebrations for next year are billed to start a little earlier this year, as Spring Festival will start on February 5.

Traditions surrounding the Chinese Lunar New Year vary from community to community, although festivities mostly include traditional Chinese dance performances, hanging red lanterns (which are the hallmark of Chinese culture), and enjoying the common spectacle of fireworks with friends and family. For the young ones, the onset of the New Year is a time to kowtow parents and grandparents for the “hong bao” (pronounced hong pao) or “red envelope”, which is an ornate red sleeve or pocket that contains “lucky money”. It is tradition for the giver to discreetly place this red envelope with two tangerines by the child’s bedside on New Year’s eve, or alternatively the child might ask for the envelope by saying “gong xi fa cai, hong bao na lai” (pronounced gon shi fa tsai), meaning “Happy New Year! Please give me a red envelope!” For such occasions, grandma and grandpa or mom and dad need to always be prepared to respond promptly and appropriately, to avoid disappointment.

Of these Lunar New Year traditions and celebrations, perhaps the most recognizable is the Lion Dance, which is arguably the epitome of Chinese folk culture. This enormously popular ancient Chinese dance is performed mostly on big occasions such as the Spring Festival, and represents vitality and good luck, as the lion is widely regarded as an auspicious animal. What however can be said of the dog?

Well, you might recall that 2017 was the year of the rooster, while this year is the Year of the Dog – the eleventh animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. Other signs include the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster and pig. According to the Chinese astrology, people born under the year of a certain animal sign will show corresponding personality traits and characteristic.

For example, the most defining characteristic for those born under the year of the dog, is said to be loyalty. These people are also considered to be extremely faithful, ambitious and tend to show care and conscientiousness in the workplace. The downside of people born in the year of the dog, however, is that they can be overly argumentative and stubborn. Sound like any one you know? In any case, if you are humble and unassuming in your approach, you should have no problems in your interactions.

The most formal and common way to wish someone a Happy Chinese New Year is to say “Xin Nian Hao” (pronounced shin knee-an how) or “xin nian kuaile” (pronounced shin knee-an khwai-le). Another commonly used phrase is “gong xi fa cai”, which directly translates to “wishing you great joy and prosperity”. Equipped with these simple phrases, you are now ready to join hundreds of millions of Chinese revelers for the next Lunar New Year, as they observe and celebrate the year of the 12th animal of the Chinese Zodiac, the pig.