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On Friday, January 31st, 2014, more than a billion people of Chinese origin will usher in the first day of the year 4712. Known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, it marks the beginning of the longest and most significant of all Chinese festivals. As the name indicates, the four-thousand-year-old tradition whose date is determined by the lunar calendar, began as a way to mark the end of the dreary winter season and the beginning of spring.
The fifteen-day celebration that ends on February 14th, signifies a fresh start of life and is celebrated in many ways - By patching up with foes, spring cleaning the home and business and even revamping the wardrobe. Red, which symbolizes fire and is believed to ward off bad luck and keep evil spirits at bay, is the color of choice for everything, ranging from clothing to the lanterns used to adorn homes. Also customary is hanging chun lians or spring couplets containing happy messages about the future. But the best tradition of all is elders gifting red envelopes filled with money, to the younger members of the household.
As is the case with all Asian festivals, food plays an important part in the celebrations. Chinese New Year meals are delectable feasts, one in which each item signifies something special. Long uncut noodles represent a long life, while a whole chicken symbolizes family togetherness. Dumplings (which resemble ingots, an ancient Chinese currency) and spring rolls (which look like gold bars), represent wealth and prosperity.
The New Year celebrations end on the day of the full moon with a Lantern Festival. To commemorate the occasion, people visit the temple to hang lanterns and also participate with them in parades. The highlight of the celebrations is the dragon dance where men and women holding up a colorful dragon made from silk and paper, parade through the streets.
Another fun tradition is naming each year after a different animal (a cycle that repeats every 12 years). Legend has it that when Lord Buddha was alive, he called all the animals to celebrate the New Year with him - Only twelve came. He named a year after each one and said the people born in that year, would demonstrate the traits of that particular animal.
2014 is the Year of the Horse, which includes anyone born in 1906, 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1990 & 2002. People born under this animal sign are energetic, cheerful, popular, talented and enjoy entertaining. They like to succeed and don't do too well when they fail at any task. They are also extremely independent and do not believe in asking for advice or help. As a result, even a slight setback results in bouts of bad temper.
The Chinese also believe that the animal has some influence on how the year will go for the world in general. The Year of the Horse is expected to bring general health and prosperity. It apparently is also a good year to travel to new destinations and mingle with the locals.
Though commonly known 'Chinese New Year', the day is also celebrated in neighboring Asian countries like Thailand and Singapore. In Vietnam, the new year is called 'Tet' and while the traditions are similar, the celebrations last for just seven days.
Xin Nian Kuai Le! (Happy New Year)
Resources: musiced.about.com, wikipedia.org