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Chinese New Year

Happy Spring Festival! (Gwuh Nee-en Haow!) Good fortune, health and prosperity to each of you throughout the Year of the Pig. On the Chinese Calendar, 2007 is the Lunar Year 4704-4705 and the New Year festivities begin on February 18th. Spring Festival, also known as Chinese New Year, is the most important celebration in China. It carries the same, if not more, importance as Christmas does in western countries.

Traditional Spring Festival is synonymous with happiness and good fortune; for more than 15 days, special foods and activities contribute to cherished, lifetime memories. Temple fairs, dragon and lion dances, fireworks equal to a war zone's sound and light proportions, stilt walking, lantern carnivals and acrobatic shows are everywhere. Pictures of the god of doors and wealth, Chinese calligraphy with black characters on red paper, and bright red paper cuttings decorate households and add to the atmosphere of good cheer. The feast of Spring Festival may be the most scrumptious dinner of the year. Dishes such as chicken, fish, and bean curd are the favorites, their homophones, respectively jee, yiew, and doh foo mean auspiciousness, abundance, and prosperity. Jee-aow zih (Chinese dumplings), nee-en gaow (New Year cakes) and tahng yiew-en (a kind of round dumpling made of glutinous rice flour and sweet stuffing served in soup) are also special foods of the season.

After dinner, families play cards or board games, or watch TV programs highlighting the holiday. On New Year's Day itself, the ancient custom of Hong Baow (meaning red packet) takes place. Children and unmarried adults are given red envelopes of money which symbolizes luck and wealth.

Following Hong Baow, families say greetings from door to door, first to their relatives and then to their neighbors. Like the western saying: Let Bygones Be Bygones, at Chinese New Year, old grudges are cast aside. The end of the New Year is marked by the Festival of Lanterns, which is a celebration with singing, dancing, lantern shows, and yes, more fireworks.

Traditionally, Chinese parents prepared lanterns for their children to carry to school during the first days of the New Year. This symbolized their hope that the children would have bright futures. Another interesting tradition is the posting of riddles called Lantern Riddles. They are written on pieces of paper and posted on lanterns or walls, and anyone solving the riddle is awarded a prize.

Born Year of the Pig If you were born in 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983 or 1995, you were born under the sign of the pig. Like the pig, you are known for your chivalry and pureness of heart, and you often make friends for life. People born in the Year of the Pig are said to be steady and resolute in all things, as well as warm hearted to other people. Competent and persistent as they are, they will spare no efforts in fulfilling any job assigned to them. According to the Chinese zodiac, pigs can overcome any setbacks and obstacles in 2007, so look forward to a year of success, both personally and professionally.

Famous people born in the Year of the Pig include Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, Thomas Jefferson, Mahalia Jackson, David Letterman, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Timothy Green is the co-author of SPEAK E-Z CHINESE In Phonetic English. You can find fun and easy Mandarin lessons, as well as great travel and culture tips about China at The Cathay Cafe


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