Gong Xi Fa Cai (Happy New Year, Mandarin)

  The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is a way of celebrating and honoring the traditions and beliefs of one’s Chinese ancestors. Those beliefs stem from stories involving a Nian and Buddha. The Story of the Nian According to legends, the first Chinese New Year celebration occurred because of a Nian, a ferocious mythical sea or mountain beast that would come on the first day of New Year to eat livestock, crops and villagers, especially children. The villagers would put food in front of their doors in hopes that Nian would eat it and leave them alone. One day the villagers saw that Nian was scared away by a child who wore red. The villagers realized that Nian was afraid of the color red. They began to hang red lanterns and red spring scrolls on their doors and windows. They also used firecrackers to frighten away the beast. Nian never came to the village again. Another legend tells of a wise old man who convinced the villagers to try to frighten the beast with fireworks, drums and burning bamboo. He believed the beast had been emboldened by the villagers’ fear. In this version, the beast stumbles, and the villagers destroy it. In both versions, people continue to make noise to frighten off other beasts as well as celebrate their victory. Xin Nian Hao (Happy New Year) The Chinese New Year celebration has remained essentially unchanged since Nian’s defeat. It is still a way to welcome spring on the Chinese calendar, but it is about symbolically doing away with the old of the previous year and ushering in good fortune, health and prosperity. Because the festival is based upon the Chinese lunisolar calendar rather than our Gregorian or Western calendar, the dates for Chinese New Year change each year but typically begin around January or February. The prosperity of the upcoming year hinges on ushering in good fortune, so families begin Chinese New Year preparations weeks in advance. These preparations can include a thorough house cleaning, adding new decorations and fresh flowers or removing broken or unlucky items. Preparations can also include purchasing new outfits (typically red) or trimming hair and fingernails. On New Year's Day, ancestors are remembered with a family altar, where food is kept and incense is burned as a mark of respect. This age-old tradition is still practiced today. Chinese New Year goes for 15 consecutive days (Friday, January 31 through Friday, February 14, 2014) and then finishes with the Lantern Festival. Buddha and the 12 Animals Each year is named after an animal: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Folklore tells of Buddha, who called all of the animals to him before he left the earth. Only 12 animals came to say goodbye, and Buddha rewarded them by naming a year after each of them in the order that they arrived. Like Western astrological signs but based on the year you were born, your animal is said to have a profound influence on your personality. Unlike astrological signs, the animals rotate in 12-year zodiac cycles. For instance, 1978, 1990, 2002 and 2014 are all the Year of the Horse. Those born in the Year of the Horse are thought to be cheerful, popular, talented, quick-witted and charming. They are impatient and hot-blooded about everything except their daily work. The year of your animal sign is considered fortunate and the best time to take on a new endeavor. This look inside a Chinese tradition is courtesy of Wesley Homes, provider of retirement communities, in-home care and Medicare home health services for older adults in King and Pierce counties. Kung Hei Fat Choi! (May you become prosperous, Cantonese)

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