BY STEPHEN MBOYA
The Chinese New Year (commonly referred to as the Spring Festival) in 2014 falls on Friday, January 31, marking the beginning of the Year of the Horse in the Chinese zodiac.
Spring Festival marks the first day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. It usually falls somewhere between end of January and early February. The Chinese Lunar Calendar is based on the cycles of the moon and each twelve years of the lunar cycle are named after 12 animals: The Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar.
Chinese people born in 12 year circles share the same animal signs. Those born in 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, or 2014, are all under the sign of the horse. Keeping with the ancient traditions and beliefs, the people born in the Year of the Horse are believed to share certain characteristics that relate to the Horse. The horse is not only a symbol of travel, but also a sign of speedy success. People born in the Year of the Horse are believed to be highly animated, active, and energetic. They are typically very elegant, independent, gentle, and hardworking.
Spring Festival is the grandest and most exciting festival for the Chinese, containing a long history of rich and cultural connotations. During this period Chinese people embark on the world’s biggest annual migration. More than 250 million Chinese people board buses and trains to go and celebrate with their families. The scene of passenger transportation in China is remarkable as the people are determined to get together with their families in what has come to be referred as the great annual Spring Migration.
The Festival, with a history of over 2000 years, symbolizes the breaking of a new dawn on the first morning of the New Year. As Christmas is to westerners, so is Spring Festival to the Chinese. And just like Christmas, Spring Festival is a time for family reunion, blessings and cheerful moments.
The New Year is everyone’s birthday and the Chinese people usher in the New Year with pomp and colour. The ecstatic populace begins to embellish their sparkling rooms featuring an atmosphere of rejoicing and festivity. Door panels will be pasted with Spring Festival couplets, highlighting Chinese calligraphy with black characters on red paper.
Shopping stores will be bursting with eager buyers seeking to obtain necessities for the New Year. Materials not only include edible oil, rice, flour, chicken, duck, fish and meat, but also fruit, candies and kinds of nuts. The Chinese will suddenly become dandies and will be in their best bib and tucker. Hairs will be neatly cut, new clothes and shoes will be bought as well as gifts for children, the elderly, friends and relatives.
The night before the New Year therefore obtained the name “reunion night”. The re-union dinner is of utmost importance as a time to reconnect with family and recall events from the past and even map the future. The warm feeling that surrounds the home and the sumptuous dinner is a great reminder of the importance of family and tradition. Although different traditions exist, food and flowers are usually laid out in order to honor those who came before.
At the stroke of midnight, entertainment ensues with lively rounds of mahjong, dice, or dominoes as families watch the China Central Television New Year’s gala on TV, a nationwide tradition in recent times. The air fills with the thunderous noise of firecrackers exploding and sparking against the night sky. Each family lights firecrackers, bidding farewell to the old and welcoming the new, expecting an unusually lucky year.
When morning comes, cheerful children will greet their parents and grand-parents, and receive money in red paper envelopes, littering the streets with red scraps of paper. Mounds of colourful paperwork’s scattered all over compliment the red lanterns and streamers that decorate the houses. The streets come alive with the stunning display of the vivacious lion, dragon and yangge dancing.
The only variation therefore between the Chinese Lunar New Year and the Gregorian New year is the date. Otherwise, the common overriding theme is thanksgiving and celebrations. Just as the rest of the world celebrated their New Year in early January, it is time for the Chinese people to usher in the New Year with greater hope and enthusiasm. Indeed, a merry year is born, just like the bright berry from the naked thorn. Happy New Year! May the Chinese people be blessed with peace, prosperity and good Health, now and in the future.
(The author is a freelance writer who comments on social and international affairs)