January 31 marked the beginning of the Year of the Horse as Chinese New Year celebrations sparked around the world. Ancient folklore has it that the Jade Emperor called a meeting with all the animals in the realm and the first twelve to arrive would be represented in the zodiac. Those born in the respective years took on the traits of the zodiac signs. People born in the Year of the Horse are independent and courageous – and although smart and open-minded, they can also be rash and quick to judge. The “Spring Festival,” as Chinese New Year is called, is based on the lunar calendar and is the most important celebration for the Chinese people. This week-long holiday constitutes one of the biggest human movements in the country as millions of migrant workers return home from the cities and the extensive railways are stretched to the max.
Preparations take place weeks before the event as people shop for food delicacies, presents and decorations. This is also a time for a thorough cleaning of the home so that the family can sweep away all the misfortunes of the past year and celebrate the new year. It’s common to hang couplets, or two-line poems, outside one’s door to ward off any evil and bring in blessings. Throughout the centuries, this has evolved into an art that involves talented calligraphy, great literature and aesthetic elements. Other popular symbols include intricate cut-paper artwork and adornments with the character 福, which means good fortune. Red is the dominant color of the season and all across the country, it brings warmth to the wintry weather and lights up the landscape.
Festivities begin on the eve, where the entire family gathers for a hearty, scrumptious meal. Although the food differs depending on the region, many thematic items are widely shared. Usually the food names are homophones with words that carry auspicious meanings. In the south, rice cakes are a staple and signal a more successful year in terms of career and finances. For those in the north, it is ritual to make dumplings together as a family, representing not only the familial cohesion and bond but also wealth since they look like the silver ingots used as currency back in ancient times. Fish is another common dish as it sounds like “surplus” – expressing the wish for a year full of surpluses.
Customarily, people stay up until the morning to welcome the new year. For the elderly, it’s a sign of treasuring the time that they have left, and for the youngsters, it’s wishing for their parents’ longevity. Firecrackers are a necessary component of the party and there is a bewildering selection – no matter what shape, color, sound and design one desires. On the first day of the new year, people visit friends and extended families. However, with increased urbanization replacing the more traditional, tight-knit communities, this practice has been logistically harder to follow. Children love the holidays because they receive cash from older relatives in red envelopes, originally used as a way to suppress any evil or harm that might come to the kids and help ensure another healthy year for them.
The Wharton Journal cordially wishes everyone a very happy new year full of great tidings and dreams come true!