It's the Lunar New Year (aka Chinese New Year) again. Many people call it Chinese New Year but of course the Chinese are not the only ones who celebrate it, so Lunar New Year is more correct. This year (2009) is the Year of the Ox. Specifically, the Earth Ox. If you were born in 1961, 1973 or 1985, you are an Ox, as well.
The expected characteristics for this year are that success will come only through hard work, and that this is a year where reliability and honestly are even more critical than normal. The Ox is associated with building to last and slow but sure action. In this time of worldwide recession, interpret that how you will.
If you do any business in or with China, you can forget about getting anything done during this period - it's like a combination of Christmas, New Years, Summer Holidays and your Birthday, all rolled into one. It's also often the only vacation many Chinese get all year. As a result, don't expect any emails getting answered (unless they are about where the nearest party is...)
Some facts about Chinese New YearAs usual, here are some interesting facts about Chinese (Lunar) New Year.
The beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nian or "Year" in Chinese. Nian would come on the first day of New Year to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year. It was believed that after the Nian ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. One time, people saw that the Nian was scared away by a little child wearing red. The villagers then understood that the Nian was afraid of the color red. Hence, every time when the New Year was about to come, the villagers would hang red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors. People also used firecrackers to frighten away the Nian. From then on, the Nian never came to the village again.
Because of this story, fireworks are traditional because the loud noises and red colors are said to scare away evil. Plus, it's fun!
The Dragon Dance is also common, and in the East dragons are considered good luck. If you look closely at most dragon dances, you will see people throwing cabbage to feed it - yes, that's part of the ceremony - most westerners miss it.
The most popular tradition is gift giving, of course, and it's usually little red envelopes with money in them.
Many people don't say "Happy New Year" (新年快乐 - Sun nin fai lok), but rather say "Congratulations and be Prosperous" (恭喜发财 - Gung hei fat choi). If you have to remember one, I'd choose "Gung hei fat choi." (A close English pronunciation for US and Canada: "Gung Hay Fat Choy").
I always think of it as the Chinese equivalent of "Live long and Prosper", but then I'm a geek...