The Chinese New Year

512px-Central_DragonIn China, New Year celebrations are known as the Spring Festival. The Chinese calendar works in lunar months, and the Spring Festival begins on the 23rd day of the twelfth lunar month of the calendar. Lasting for about 23 days, the festivities don’t come to an end until the 15th day of the first lunar month of the New Year.

The Chinese New Year is the longest and most important celebration in the calendar. This year is the 4712th in the Chinese calendar, and begins on January 31.

In China, the New Year is a time for family. Family members gather at each other’s homes, most significantly for a feast on New Year’s Eve when people wear red clothes and give children “lucky money” in red envelopes. The colour red symbolizes fire, which according to Chinese legend, drives away bad luck.

Fireworks are set off most evenings during the festivities, a ritual that began sometime before the fourteenth century, when the people of China lit bamboo stalks, believing that the crackling flames would frighten away evil spirits.

One of the highlights of the Chinese New Year is the lantern festival.  On the fifteenth day of the celebrations, glowing lanterns are both hung in temples and carried during moonlit parades. It is during the lantern festival that the famous dragon dance takes place.

Traditionally the dragon, which is made from silk, paper and bamboo and can stretch to over a hundred feet long, is held high by young men who dance beneath it, as they guide the beast through the streets.

Chinese years are marked with dedications to different animals. and 2014 sees the start of the Year of the Horse. Ancient legend tells of how Buddha asked all the world’s animals to meet him on New Year’s Day. Only twelve came- the horse, sheep, pig, rat, snake, monkey, rooster, ox, dog, tiger, rabbit and the dragon. Buddha rewarded them by naming a year after each one, announcing that the people born in each animal’s year would take on some of that animal’s personality.

People born during the year of the horse are said to be cheerful, skilful with money, perceptive, witty, talented and good with their hands. Rembrandt, Chopin, President Theodore Roosevelt, and Harrison Ford were all born in the year of the horse.

If you’d like to discover which animal marks the year of your birth according to the Chinese calendar, then you can find out here-

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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