On Sunday February 10th we say goodbye to the year of the dragon and hello to the year of the Snake. Many of you may be wondering how it’s determined which year belongs to which animal. I asked my grandfather who is a Chinese Buddhist why there were only 12 animals. One of the traditions is that Buddha promised special gifts to all the animals that followed him. The rat, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ox, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and boar are the only ones that followed so he gave them each a month which is represented on the Chinese zodiac, which you can find on Chinese zodiac place mats in many Asian restaurants. There is even a description of what each animals characteristics are and what years they are aligned with. The Chinese New Year doesn’t fall on a set date year after year because the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, which means the celebration marks the first day of the lunar cycle.
The Chinese New Year aka Spring Festival is an extremely festive time for Asians and quickly being recognized in the US as a major celebratory holiday. Chinese New Year seems to become more popular year after year as many American retail stores take advantage of the popularity of the holiday by offering “Chinese New Year” specials. I’ve even seen some retailers put there own spin on the new year by having a parade after the traditional dragon ceremony. I personally think of the Chinese New Year as a brilliant way to introduce people to the Asian culture and if you are Asian to get reacquainted with the culture. People who are unfamiliar with the meaning have an opportunity to dive deep into the rooted traditions and various myths that surround the conception of Chinese New Year. There are beautifully decorated dragons that make appearances for the traditional dragon parades, red lanterns and special flowers placed outside businesses and houses, special foods that are created and considered extremely symbolic of the new year and the most important part of the celebration is the emphasis placed on spending time reconnecting with family and elders. Days are spent before the New Year cleaning house in preparation of starting the year off with a clean slate. Red envelopes are given with crisp new bills that symbolize good fortune and success for the new year. The color red is also thought to ward off evil spirits.
I always get excited for Chinese New Year. It’s a new beginning. Time to make a fresh start and one of the most important holidays in the Asian Culture. My mom was born and raised in Vietnam, met my dad during the war and both moved to the United States after getting married. First stop was Fort Dix, NJ, where I was born. I truly believe that the only reason we celebrated American holidays was because we were in the states and I was quickly becoming Americanized. I remember our Christmas tree that we would pull out of the back room every year. To me it was normal and exciting to look at the pre-decorated tree covered in a plastic bag all year and then pull off the plastic cover for the Christmas holiday. Once I became old enough to understand what the Chinese New Year meant I remember telling my mom that I would give up all US holidays to celebrate for 15 days during the Chinese New Year.