Chinese New Year – The Year of the Rabbit
Chinese Lunar New Year or Spring Festival in China falls between late January and early March in the Western calendar and is on different dates each year according to the lunar phases. It is celebrated in China and throughout Asia but also worldwide and festivities continue for 15 days until the next full moon. In China everything closes for 1 week and a mass exodus of people travel home to their families.
2023 is the year of the Rabbit and the festival was celebrated on Sunday the 22nd of January.
Each year is represented by one of the 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac and people born in those years are deemed to have some of the traits associated with their zodiac animal.
The 12 animals in order of the 12-year cycle is: rat ox tiger rabbit dragon snake horse sheep monkey rooster dog and pig.
“The Rabbit energy of 2023 is peace loving, kind and sensitive. Rabbit loathes anything to do with war and violence of any kind which makes him a good negotiator or diplomat because he will find a compromise to satisfy all concerned. Highly intuitive, rabbits possess an ability to see things before they happen and a talent to secure deals in both business and in life. Look for those under the sign of sheep, dog or pig to share your harmony. There will be war if you marry those under dragon or rooster. ‘
Taken from – The 12 Chinese zodiac Chart. Hong Kong wonders never cease.
There was hesitation to write this account, it being from the eyes and experiences of a non-Chinese person and unsure I would do it justice as it is a huge subject encompassing many aspects. However, I’ve written it from my perspective and give my account being in a dual culture family.
About 10 years ago I sent this email to a group of friends who wanted to share a New Year’s with us, and I wanted to give them a taste of what to expect. It went like this:
“Gong hey Fatt Choi” in Cantonese or “Gong Xi fa Cai” in Mandarin is how all Chinese are greeting each other this week meaning “Wishing you Happiness and Prosperity”
Everywhere there is a flurry of activity particularly around Chinese stores where all are busy trading and shopping, before everything closes for 3 days.
Careful cleaning will be happening in homes as clearing out the old and bringing in the new is observed. Cleaning is done before midnight as it’s forbidden on New Years’ Day in case you wash away the new years’ luck.
New clothing is worn to start off the new year bringing in new energy.
Everywhere are red and gold decorations, flowers, bright lanterns, music, posters of Gods and deities to bless and protect families and homes in the coming year.
Red is the most auspicious colour associated with wealth and good fortune and to ward off Nian, a legendary ferocious monster who as it is told would terrorise the common people every new year attack the animals and destroy their crops. Those that battled with it realised it was afraid of light, colour and loud noises hence the fireworks, the colour red and the drums and cymbals.
This is a time for family, visiting the temple to ask for blessings, seeing friends, eating lots of delicious food and the giving of red packets (hung pao) is expected from parents, elders and friends to all young and single family members. The symbolism is that it is lucky money, a wish for good health and an encouragement to study hard.
We shopped today in a busy area packed for the festival. Firecrackers blasted in the streets and crowds tightly gathering to watch. The noise was deafening but exciting, many covering their ears watching colourful display of sparks splattering out from a thick plat of red crackers. As the smoke cleared a sea of red blitzed paper carpeted the ground, to be left there as it is considered fortuitous.
On the eve families gather at the parental home for dinner and at some stage visit the temple to light joss sticks, placing them in large urns paying respect to the sacred deities and asking for blessings throughout the year. Many temples will also put on festive dragon and lion dances in their courtyards and ending with firecracker displays which is always welcome and creates a festive mood.
Needless to say, Chinese New Year is much about delicious food and many of the dishes are chosen for their traditional symbolic meaning.
The big lunches and dinners consist of traditional dishes that have an auspicious meaning for the new year. The dishes are considered lucky foods by either the pronunciation of the dish name, the shape of the food and in the way the dish is prepared or served, for example, fish is a must for the new year table as the name for fish Yú’ is a homophone for the word abundance or surplus. Eating fish ensures that abundance will carry into the new year. Likewise scallops are served because they look like old Chinese coins, and in China dumplings are eaten because they resemble gold ingots.
On visiting family and friends you will expect to try many little delicacies and snacks of dried fruits, candies, a variety of seeds, there are plums of all sorts, my favourites, biscuits, cookies and nut candies – all very morish. Alongside that there will be card playing, chess, gambling and the much-loved game of Mah Jong which can go on into the night.
The festive atmosphere everywhere is alive and loud. The highlight are the lion dances, the drums the sounds. When you hear the drums’ loud beating your heart feels as if it will jump out of your chest. The lion clad acrobats show off their skills in cleverly retrieving red packets held up high or in the eaves and tricky spots. This is fun to watch and is very entertaining.
So, friends, with this as a backdrop to what is going on in the Chinese community and homes, next Sunday evening you will be enjoying a delicious dinner and enjoying the heartening loudness of the lion dance. If you wish to entice the lion with red packets I will share.
Celebrating this festival in the early years seemed very different but gradually it has become an enjoyable part of our lives and with it the appreciation of how deeply significant the practices and traditions are…its messages for health and prosperity for families and community is a positive one.
“Gong Xi Fa Cai”
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