Happy Chinese New Year – hide the dust pans and peel some oranges!

The Year of the Rabbit is finally upon us and 3rd February 2011 marks the day that you should eat plenty of oranges, wear red clothing and hide your cleaning equipment. If this statement has left you baffled, read on to discover all about Chinese traditions and how you might be able to increase your good fortune in 2011…

So you may have noticed that Chinese New Year falls on a different date every year. This is because it starts according to the Lunar calender rather than the Gregorian calendar, which we use in Europe. New Year begins on the day of the second New Moon after the Winter Solstice and ends 15 days later.

Many rituals are followed on Chinese New Year as it is believed that the first day can influence the rest of the year. Here’s a quick guide to the do’s and don’ts according to Chinese traditions…

1) Eat oranges
Make sure you eat plenty of oranges or tangerines as these are thought to be symbols of good health.

2) Wear red clothing
Red is the best colour to wear as it symbolises wealth, happiness and good fortune. It is considered a happy colour which brings you a bright future. Avoid white as this is the colour of death.

3) Have fresh flowers in your home
Fresh flowers are a symbol of good health.

4) Give little red envelopes
A strong Chinese tradition is the giving of red envelopes (lai see). If you are married, you should give a red envelope with money in it to children and unmarried relatives. If you receive an envelope, do not open it in front of the person that gives it to you.

5) Open windows
Opening windows is said to bring good luck in for the new year.

6) Eat sweets
Eating sweets is said to deliver a sweet year.

7) Light fire crackers
It is a Chinese tradition to light firecrackers and leave red lanterns/food at your door as protection from a mythical beast called the Nian. People also shoot off firecrackers to send out the old year and welcome in the new year.

8)Remember the first person of the day
The first person you meet and the first words you hear are significant to your fortunes for the year.

9) Eat lots of food
It is traditional to have a big family feast and indulge at New Year.

10) Do not use bad language or negative references
Everyone should avoid using bad language and negative/unlucky words on New Year’s Day as these can set the tone for the year. The word “four” (ssu) is unlucky in China as it sounds like the word for death. Death or ghost stories should not be mentioned.

11) Do not cry
It is said that if you cry on the first day of the year, the pattern will continue for the whole year.

12) Do not wash your hair
On New Year’s Day you are not supposed to wash you hair because it is thought to wash away your good luck for the year.

13) Do not clean the house
It’s a Chinese superstition that the house should be cleaned before New Year’s Day each year. On New Year’s Day, there shouldn’t be any brooms, brushes, dusters or cleaning equipment around the house as cleaning is forbidden. The reason for this is because it is believed that cleaning on New Year’s Day sweeps good fortune away.
After New Year’s Day, all dirt can be swept to the corners of the room, but not removed until the fifth day. When you do sweep the dust away, make sure it is taken out of the back door as taking rubbish out of the front entrance is said to sweep away the good fortune of your family.

14) Do not refer to the past year
All references to the past year should be avoided in order to ensure everything is a new beginning.

15) Do not use sharp objects
Sharp objects are said to bring bad luck as they cut out your good luck so avoid scissors on New Year’s Day.

Now if you’ve grabbed your red jumper, yet you’re still wondering what exactly the Year of the Rabbit means, all will be now revealed…

In Chinese Astrology, there is a system called ‘Jikkan Junishi’, which means 10 stems and 12 branches. The 10 stems refer to the yin-yang principles and the elements of water, wood, fire, earth and metal. The 12 branches refer to 12 animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and wild boar. The animal signs are a 12 year cycle used for dating the years.

The year of the rabbit is the following years: 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011. A person born in the year of the rabbit is seen as the emblem of longevity and symbolises good manners, kindness and a sensitivity to beauty. A rabbit person has a very sweet disposition and enjoys peace and quiet and time alone to reflect. Sometimes the person may be seen as introverted, however the rabbit character just likes to be part of a group rather than a leader and does not desire being the centre of attention. They are affectionate with strong family ties and hate the thought of conflict.

As 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit, you will be pleased to know that this symbolises a calm and placid year and it is the year to ‘take it easy’. This year is a symbol of affection, family and peace. Money can be made without too much of a struggle and the year has an unhurried pace. We should all rest after the battles endured in 2010 year and people will begin to acknowledge that persuasion is better than force. Lifestyles should be leisurely and we should allow ourselves to indulge in the luxuries we’ve always craved for.

So I hope all my Chinese friends and family have a wonderful celebration, and I wish everyone ‘Xin Nian Kuai Le’ (Happy New Year).

© 2010 Alicia Drewnicki