« Xīnnián kuàilè! » « Gong hei fat choy! » Happy Chinese New Year! Among red banners, calligraphy, well-wishes, and delicious food, the MICDS Passport Series convened virtually on Thursday to celebrate Chinese New Year. This next year is the Year of the Metal Ox which runs from February 12, 2021, through January 31, 2022. The Chinese calendar started with legendary Yellow Emperor Huangdi’s reign in 2698 BC, so 2021 is the 4,719th lunar year!
Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year and Spring Festival, is the largest holiday for over 1.5 billion people. It is celebrated around the world by East Asians for up to 15 days, and it goes by different names depending on the country celebrating:
- Seollal – Korea
- Tet – Vietnam
- Losar – Tibet
- Tsagaan Sar – Mongolia
The Chinese Zodiac follows a 12-year cycle of 12 animals and five elements, so the combination of an animal and element repeats only every 60 years. Here is a calendar that shows how you can determine your zodiac animal by your birth year. Keep in mind that the calendar runs from early/mid-February through the end of January, so people born in January or February also need to use the day of their birth to determine their zodiac animal and element. Click on the image to enlarge it.
Each zodiac animal and element are said to have special characteristics. The Metal Ox is considered strong, reliable, and trustworthy.
Some typical New Year traditions include:
- Family reunions – Prior to the pandemic, three billion trips would typically occur over 40 days so that families can celebrate together.
- Spring cleaning – This is done to put away old things, bid farewell to the prior year, and welcome in the new year and its good luck.
- New clothes – Kids and adults alike dress in new clothing.
- Red envelopes – Children wish their parents and grandparents a happy new year and receive red envelopes with money.
- Firecrackers, lion dances, and dragon dances – Loud noises (cymbals) and fire (firecrackers) are said to scare away bad spirits like the monster known as « Nian. » People feed the lions the red envelopes with money for good luck.
- At MICDS, the traditional Chinese New Year Passport Series event includes presentations, food, dances, calligraphy-writing lessons, and sometimes the Head of School even blows the Tibetan horn! Here’s a look at the 2020 Chinese New Year celebration. Students have also celebrated with Upper School performances, Middle School calligraphy practice, and the 1st grade Chinese New Year parade.
In this time of COVID-19, the occasion has been celebrated with virtual reunions, takeout food, and even dressing up pets.
After learning about the customs and traditions, parent Jenny Loeb demonstrated writing calligraphy on the red scrolls hung above and on the sides of her home’s main door. A special detail she shared was that her calligraphy brush bristles are made from the hair of her children from when they were babies. The scrolls include words that mean peace, safety, happiness, fortune, and wellness. She explained that you write from left-to-right and from up-to-down. Much to the delight of the fellow attendees, she even makes a special red scroll for the rooms of her children which means « well-behaved! »
Next, parent Janice Li talked about the similarities and differences between Lunar New Year celebrations of the common people compared to the royal family. Here are a few differences:
- The two start celebrating at different times.
- Some words on the red scrolls are reserved exclusively for the emperor.
- The emperor enjoys a big meal on New Year’s Day (sometimes with over 90 dishes just for him) and the commoners have their big meal on New Year’s Eve.
- Although everyone has dumplings, the emperor is provided with four dumplings in a delicate box on a special plate. Two of the four dumplings have coins inside. He eats three of the dumplings, including the two with coins, and the remaining dumpling is given to the Buddhist hall in the Forbidden City for an offering.
- Both the emperor and common folks have new clothes, but the emperor’s new clothing is extremely intricate.
Next, Vivien Schlafly talked about how families and countries celebrate Chinese New Year in different ways. She gave the perspective of how the new year is celebrated in Taiwan, which is where she is from.
She also talked about the food customs of the holiday. The mandatory dish on the table is Hot Pot where folks gather around a hot pot to cook a variety of food. This bodes well with the reunion setting of most Chinese New Year celebrations. Also, participants enjoy whole fish and whole chicken, which represent unity and prosperity. They also eat various fruits which have special meaning. Long noodles symbolize longevity at Lunar New Year and birthdays. For some Southeast Asian cultures, a raw sushi fish salad called Yusheng is part of the festivities which people toss as high as they can. The higher one tosses the Yusheng, the more luck and longevity they’ll have!
Yusheng was demonstrated by Liesel Duhon, her mother, and her daughter. She also blew a large, 6-foot Tibetan horn that she bought in Lhasa, symbolizing bringing in the new year for good luck while warding off evil spirits. Then, she blew the Tibetan conch shell, a Buddhist symbol that is said to purify the environment from evil.
The passport event concluded with a Q&A. Thank you to the Passport Series and parent volunteers for all that was shared in the Chinese New Year event! Happy Year of the Metal Ox to all!
Miss the presentation? Watch the recording here with passcode 4K&=m513.