Chinese New Year, which starts on February 16, is celebrated by a quarter of the world’s population. Rosemary Behan offers an insight into what the celebrations involve
Chinese New Year 2018: what it is and how to celebrate it
If your New Year’s resolutions have got off to a slow start and you’re wondering how we can be in February already, the beginning of the Chinese New Year tomorrow offers a fresh chance to hit the ground running. In common with the Islamic calendar and unlike the Gregorian one, Chinese New Year is never on a fixed date because it’s based on the lunar calendar, though it normally falls between January 21 and February 20.
The Chinese lunar calendar is based on the 11.86-year orbital period of Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. Accordingly, each year is assigned one of 12 animal signs: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. This year is the Year of the Dog, which last occurred in 2006 and will roll around again in 2030. Those born in 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006 and 2018 are known as Dogs.
Astrologers throw five earthly element years into the mix – wood, fire, earth, metal and water. According to Asian astrology, your year of birth and the animal it represents influences your personality traits. Dogs symbolise honesty, loyalty and decisiveness and their lucky numbers are 3, 4 and 9; 1, 6 and 7 are said to be unlucky. Within the particular years, there are different varieties, with this year being the first Year of the Earth Dog since 1958. Anyone born in an Earth Dog year is said to be serious, responsible and communicative in the workplace.
Perhaps the most high-profile current Dog is Donald Trump, who was born on June 14, 1946. This makes him a “Fire Dog”, the most energetic, bold and courageous of all the dog types – “the Fire Dog enjoys social settings, as they have the chance to attract others with their innate enthusiasm”. Other Dogs include British royal Prince William, Madonna and Justin Bieber.
So what can we expect from the Year of the Dog? Fair play and social justice are fundamental to the sign, so zodiac readers are predicting an increased number of citizens demanding change. Thanks to the traits of energy and discipline, this year is thought to be a good time to try a new venture, though there is a risk of burnout.
Globally, Chinese New Year is celebrated by a quarter of the world’s population. Celebrations tend to involve fireworks, bell-ringing and traditional lion dances. Within China, where the New Year is also known as the Spring Festival, a much broader range of celebrations is seen – rituals differ according to area and ethnicity.
Chinese families will normally have a reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve, and clean their houses to sweep away any bad fortune on New Year’s Day. People might decorate their houses with red paper cutouts, banners and New Year paintings, many of which this year will be dog-themed. Children are given red envelopes with money inside, for good luck. Now, many teenagers have red envelope apps, allowing relatives to transfer currency digitally. Firecrackers signal the end of one year and the transition to the next.
Where to go:
In northern China, dumplings, sometimes seasoned with sugar or with a coin inside, are the must-eat food on New Year’s Eve, and traditional snacks include melon seeds, walnuts and peanuts. South of the Yangtze River, most people eat “soup balls”, spring rolls, sticky rice cake, hotpot and fish; common snacks are nuts, peach slices and green bean cake.
In terms of activities, on New Year’s Eve in north-east China, family members get together by playing poker or mah-jong. In Beijing, temple fairs are held from the first day of the New Year; these offer folk performances and snacks.
In Guangzhou, flower fairs are popular at New Year, and all over southern China, lantern displays are common. The final day of the Chinese New Year is marked by the Lantern Festival, though huge shows now take place across China and Taiwan that go on for two weeks. Giant, sculpted “lanterns” in the shape of people, animals or robots are lit up and accompanied by fireworks displays and other entertainment. More traditionally, visitors can take part in the festivals in villages such as Pingxi, outside Taipei, by purchasing a paper lantern, making a wish and releasing it into the air.
While the entire New Year period is two weeks, most Chinese people go back to work on the eighth day. Most travel domestically during this period to visit family and friends, but it’s also a popular time for people on the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea to travel abroad. According to this year’s Spring Festival Travel Forecast Report issued by Ctrip, China’s largest online travel platform, and the China Tourism Academy, 6.5 million Chinese are expected to head abroad in the next two weeks. Thailand and Japan are popular destinations, along with Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, the United States, Cambodia, Australia. “Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Europe, such as Italy and Spain, have grown significantly,” a spokesperson for the company says. “In particular, the number of travellers for Northern Lights trips in northern Europe and Canada grew more than 150 per cent.”
The Ctrip report states that the number of domestic visitors in the seven-day holiday period will reach 385 million people this year, up 12 per cent on last year. “In addition to visiting relatives and friends, island tours, cruise, family tours remain the top travel themes,” the company says. Among the travellers, most of the post-1970s and 80s generation travellers will use the opportunity to spend time with families, and popular destination cities are Sanya, Beijing, Xiamen, Guangzhou and Kunming.
For travellers heading to China, where is the best place to celebrate the New Year without the crowds? Emei Mountain in Sichuan Province, near Chengdu; Huashan Mountain, near Xi’an; or Huangshan Mountain, west of Shanghai, are all accessible yet serene. To enjoy food with locals in a village setting, head from Xiamen on the south coast to Tulou in Yongding in Fujian Province.
To really get away from it all, try Yueyaquan Dunhuang in Gansu Province, a vast area bordering Mongolia accessible via Chengdu or a convenient Emirates route from Dubai to Yinchuan in Ningxia. It’s the equivalent of the UAE’s Empty Quarter and was formerly a silk-route hub and centre for trade between China and the West. For ancient architecture and a traditional parade, visit Shangli in Ya’an, south-west
Don’t miss Friday’s copy of Weekend for our special on Chinese New Year food