Learning from the ancient traditions and celebrations of renewal

January and February can be a challenging time of the year – filled with cold, dark days, when many of us are still grappling with resolutions to curb our indulgences. That’s why the Chinese New Year, celebrated after Winter Solstice, can be a beautiful way to reset the year’s beginning. The celebration’s date changes every year, and in 2018 the festivities begin on February 16. This is the perfect time to bring in some light and joy to the moody winter months. It’s a particularly special year for those born under the Chinese zodiac sign: the year of the Dog.

The Chinese zodiac

The Chinese zodiac moves through a 12-year cycle. Those born in 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006 and 2018 are known as Dogs. In Asian astrology, your birth year corresponds with an animal, explaining a good deal about your life and personality. The qualities associated with the Dog are communication, a serious nature and someone who’s responsible in the workplace.

Preparations for Chinese New Year

Ancient Chinese belief was that the Kitchen Stove God rules the kitchen and affairs of the home. People worshiped this God and prayed for blessings for their home. In modern times, fewer Chinese follow this tradition.

But attention to the home remains a priority. A week before the new year begins, tradition compels Chinese people to clean their houses top to bottom. The cleaning represents a wish to say goodbye entirely to the old year, and welcome the good fortune of a new year.

Outside, every street, building, and house where Spring Festival will be celebrated is saturated in red decorations. Red is believed to be a good luck color – the celebratory color for Chinese New Year. Red lanterns are hung in the street, official buildings are decorated with red images of prosperity, and red couplets are pasted onto doors.

Because 2018 is the year of the Dog, dog décor will also be heavily used. There are also red dog dolls for children and charming New Year paintings of dogs.

Celebrating with family

The Chinese New Year is a time for sacred family celebrations, and people are expected to come home to be with their extended family. In fact, the New Year’s Eve dinner is called a “reunion dinner.” This is considered to be the most important meal of the year. It’s not uncommon for many generations in a family to sit around the table together at this delicious dinner.

Dishes with lucky meanings will always be on the menu, such as fish, dumplings and spring rolls. For instance, fish symbolizes “surplus.” These foods are served during the 16-day holiday season, from the eve of the Chinese New Year until the Lantern Festival.

The Chinese custom is to stay up late on New Year’s Eve and welcome the new year’s arrival. After the reunion dinner, families watch the Spring Festival Gala – one of the China’s biggest TV events of the year.

This Festival also includes a tradition of exchanging gifts. Often, the gifts are simple messages in red envelopes. Sometimes the red envelopes have money in them. People send short messages to friends and family by phone or mail. Then, at the first minute of the new year, fireworks explode in the streets.

New Year’s Day celebrations

In China, there are many traditional performances that occur on New Year’s Day. Lavish, bright red traditional dragon parades, dances and imperial performances are televised.

The Spring Festival is also a season of superstitions. For example, traditionally, Chinese people believe that what something looks like – its color and shape – and what its name sounds like, can make it ill-fated. They believe that how the New Year begins will affect the whole year, so superstitions must be carefully observed.

Chinese New Year blessings

We can all use Chinese New Year as a time to restart with positive intentions. Our days can be full of red color, light and cleaning to prepare for a new beginning.

What personal rituals can we include in this new beginning? We can be inspired by the Chinese New Year and give away objects that are not bringing beauty or use into our homes. It’s also a good time to create a list of intentions for the year. This is not the same as New Year resolutions. Not a list of things you have to do, but instead a list of things you would like to see yourself grow toward, nourish.  

And in this darker time of year, be with your community, your friends, your family. Eat delicious foods, hang red at your door, or even wear this special bracelet with a bright red sandalwood bead to symbolize the energy of life. Happy Chinese New Year!

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