Monday was the official start to the Chinese/Lunar New Year! I was informed of this by my Vietnamese nail tech, Tina (yes, she falls into the stereotype & yes, she is unapologetically fabulous) when I visited for a manicure on Saturday. When asked about her plans, Tina indulged me. Since the holiday officially fell on the Monday and she would be working, her and her family were planning on celebrating with dinner on Sunday evening instead. Despite our cultural differences, as a nurse, shuffling holiday plans around due to work schedules was something I could totally relate to. I sympathized with her and wished her a “Happy New Year” on my way out, hoping that this was the appropriate thing to do.
On my walk home, I realized the only thought I had when I heard the words ‘Chinese New Year’ was to make sure I avoided downtown Chinatown in Boston as they usually celebrate with a well-attended parade that ties up traffic and crowds the T (much like the St. Patrick’s Day parade that paralyzes the streets of Southie). So when I got home, I did a little research into it (when I say ‘research’ I mean that I googled it) and I thought I’d share a few of the things I learned:
- Prior to the start of the New Year, families clean their homes in order to get rid of bad fortune from the prior year and welcome in good luck. But brooms and dust pans need to be put away before the start of the celebrations so that any incoming good luck cannot be swept away.
- Unlike our New Year, the Chinese New Year isn’t just celebrated on the Eve/Day of the new lunar calendar year. It is actually a festival lasting fifteen days with each day having a different significance and ritual.
- The dinner that Tina referred to celebrating on Sunday night with her family is the biggest event of the Chinese New Year. It’s referred to as the ‘reunion dinner’ and is comparable to Thanksgiving dinner here in the U.S. The meal traditionally includes dumplings, chicken and pork.
- Rather than exchanging gifts, red envelopes are often exchanged between established married couples to younger non-married members of the family and children. More specifically, an even amount of money is usually given as odd amounts of money are associated with money that is given at funerals. Even more specifically, the number 8 is thought to be very lucky because it is the homophone for “wealth”. Therefore, $8 is a common amount of money to be exchanged, although amounts can range from a few dollars to several hundred.
- The Chinese New Year is usually rung in with fireworks and firecrackers with the idea being that the loud noises will scare away evil spirits and allow the New Year to begin without any misfortune.
For me, the most familiar aspect of the Chinese New Year is that for years growing up I heard it promoted on American news programs and announced as “the Year of the <insert animal here>”. Different from the the western zodiac signs where each of the 12 months of the year are assigned a different symbol (ex. Leo, Cancer, Scorpio, etc.), the Chinese zodiac assigns one animal (ex. ox, rabbit, dragon, etc.) to each year and rotates those animals every 12 years.
Personally, I’m not big into the zodiac signs. But I know my sign and I check my horoscope pretty regularly so was super curious and found it quite fun to read about. That is until…I realized I was born in the Year of the Rat. Ew, gross. Why couldn’t I have been born in the Year of the Dog? I love dogs! Or the Year of the Dragon? That’s fierce! Alright, truth be told, I’m still really interested, but I’m not super pumped to share my ‘Year of the Rat’ information on my match.com profile…even if the characteristics (kind, smart and lovely) do suit me. Whether or not you give a s*** about this kind of stuff, have a little fun and check out your sign here to see if you were born in a year associated with an animal you can relate to!
Regardless, let’s welcome 2016: the Year of the Monkey! If you know you’ll be welcoming a child this year (and if not, I suggest you reassess because the monkey is a pretty cool sign and you’ll have to wait anther 12 years for it to come around again!) you might be excited to know that they could have Monkey-esque qualities that include: being intelligent, witty, curious and playful. If I’ve peaked your interest and you want to read more about the Year of the Monkey as it pertains to your personal Chinese zodiac sign, I highly recommend this site.
Ultimately, I am a huge fan of the many traditions my family and I maintain every year. And after learning a little bit more about it, I now have so much more respect for the traditions associated with the Chinese New Year (p.s. I also learned that it’s perfectly normal to wish someone “Happy New Year”). Take home point: I’m 100%, all-for promoting a tradition that welcomes wealth, prosperity and good fortune. Or one that gives us a fun way to introduce our single friends to random strangers: “Hey, did you know Jackie was born in the Year of the Rat?” I can’t wait to hear that one.