Chinese New Years are named after a cycle of twelve animals that go in the order of Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Chicken, Dog and Pig. This coming year is the year of the Rabbit and it officially begins on February 3, 2011.
The legend of the Chinese New Year includes a story on why the Cat never made the zodiac list.
Once upon a time, the Jade Emperor thought it would be better to assign an animal to each year so people could more easily remember the Zodiac cycle. He decided to hold a meeting with all the animals so that he could choose twelve of them to be the Zodiac animals. At that time, Cat and Rat were close friends. They were very excited about the meeting and decided to go early; however, Cat was a sleepyhead. He hardly ever woke up before noon. On the night before the meeting, he asked Rat to wake him early the next morning. When morning came, Rat got up early and quietly left for the meeting alone. When Cat finally awoke in the afternoon, he knew it was too late. Feeling betrayed, he vowed that henceforth Rat would be his enemy. This is probably the main reason Cats are always chasing after Rats.
In many ways the Chinese New Year reminds me of Christmas. There is a special celebration vibe in the air during this time of the year, the colorful decorations at everyone’s houses and in the stores, the gathering of the entire family followed by a giant feast that goes on for days. When I was growing up, in the days leading up to the New Year, my Grandma would organize all the kids and we would give the entire house a deep cleaning. As was tradition, we were not allowed to clean on the day of the New Year as it symbolized the removal of the prosperity and the luck from the house. Children decorated the house with red paper cut outs of Chinese characters that brought luck and prosperity in the coming year. My Grandpa would do calligraphy on red papers to hang by the door and Grandma would prepare for the feast.
On the Eve of the New Year, the entire family got together to enjoy the feast that Grandma had spent days preparing and the entire dinner would take hours to eat. After dinner, the adults got together and played Mahjong (a tile game that requires four people to play). The children would be out on the street lighting up fireworks and firecrackers.
The following morning all the kids would find red envelopes with money under their pillows (kind of like Christmas gifts but without the crazy shopping) given to them by the elder members of the family. We all lined up and paid our respects to the elders, wishing them a happy new year. Breakfast would always be a bowl of dumplings as their shape symbolizes the Chinese gold nuggets. The entire celebration goes on for 15 days until the first full moon. Offices and government agencies are typically closed for the first five days of the celebration.
Since I moved to the States, I have not had the chance to properly celebrate the Chinese New Year; however, it is a great time to enjoy some really fantastic Chinese food! Check with your favorite Chinese restaurant as I am sure they will offer all sorts of specials and package meals for the Chinese New Year.
I want to wish everyone a healthy and prosperous New Year! Happy year of the Rabbit!!