Chinese New Year focuses on the remembrance of ancestors, family unity, hospitality, honor, happiness, good luck and wealth in the New Year.
The New Year begins on Thursday, February 7, 2008.
This year, 2008 marks the “Year of the Rat” on the Chinese calendar, one of 12 animal names recycled every 12 years. Legend has it that those born in each animal year have some of that animal’s personality. Rats are said to be the most industrious, hard working and successful, and are often leaders, pioneers and conquerors. Famous people born in the Year of the Rat include George Washington, Shakespeare, Mozart and actors Samuel Jackson and Scarlett Johansson.
Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days until the Lantern Festival, which falls on February 21 this year. This year is also known as “Wu Zhi,” its formal name in the Stem-Branch system; 2008 is year nine in the 60-year naming cycle. The current year is Year 4705 by the Chinese calendar.
Practices for the new year vary depending upon which part of China you are from. Northern China celebrates the New Year with families making boiled dumplings together, symbolic of staying together, warm and full in the New Year. Southern China feasts on sticky rice rolled in balls, with a special stuffing inside.
“Both in the North and in the South, the theme is the same even though the food may vary,” says Lisa Fan, photographer for the Asian Community Service Center in Vienna, Virginia.
“Harmony and union is what the meal means. One thing you must have at the meal is a whole fish, and some of the fish must be left on the plate to represent savings and prosperity for next year.”
Traditions include wearing new clothes and shoes, hanging red lanterns and banners with words of good fortune around doors — to bring good blessings and ward off evil — and cleaning the house thoroughly before festivities. No cleaning is permitted during festivities as that may sweep away good luck.
Another tradition is using the lotus flower as decoration.
“The lotus flower represents high moral standards. It grows in dirty mud but symbolizes purity and high moral standards,” says Tiny Tang, vice-president of the Asian Community Service Center. “This is a time to fully respect our parents and remember our ancestors. We follow good values which are meaningful for people. It is a reminder of our tradition.”