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Ever since I was old enough to realize that all people didn’t look the same, sound the same, or like the same things, I have been fascinated by what made people different. One of my favorite words to use, think about, and write about is Culture, and one of the most telling and informative aspects of culture are the holidays that other cultures celebrate. While Americans and many other cultures across the world have already celebrated New Year's Day, there is another culture that celebrates its own.
Chinese New Year is the product of an older, more prosperous, and more decorated culture than any other. The holiday has so many cool aspects to it, from the denotations of the years, to the traditions it celebrates. This year, Chinese New Year falls on Saturday, January 28. I remember being a kid and receiving little trinkets from my aunt, a first generation American, along with my cousin’s grandmother, during Chinese New Year celebrations. Gold coins for luck, fans to symbolize kindness and generosity, and calendars with the symbol for the New Year on it were among the trove of gifts I received on that day.
While Chinese culture has celebrated the beginning of the calendar year on January 1 and the adoption of the Western calendar since 1912, Chinese New Year has traditionally been a 15-day festival to commemorate the start of the lunar-solar calendar. Today, the holiday is still referred to as Chinese New Year, but is known in China as Spring Festival. In addition to celebrating a year of hard work and prosperity, the season also places a heavy emphasis on family, optimism, and happiness during the holiday. In the spirit of celebrating the Chinese New Year, I thought it would be cool to look into the intricacies of the holiday: the traditions, the animals, and the meanings behind all of it. I had help from a friend, Lauren Jeu (and her family) about how to celebrate the holiday like one of the culture.
Red is symbolic of luck, joy, good fortune, and happiness in Chinese culture. It is worn by brides, and NEVER worn at funerals. For the New Year, it is a popular color, but any bright color is acceptable. Black is avoided because of its ties to bad luck.
Similar to what many American experience during Christmas, Chinese New Year is a time to exchange gifts, primarily in the form of red money envelopes to bring good luck and fortune to family members. These envelopes are kept in pockets all day to keep this luck with their loved ones.
In my family (along with many others throughout the South), the New Year traditions are standard: cabbage or greens, black eyed peas, pork, and cornbread. Well, in the Chinese culture, these traditions translate to: chicken (for fertility), noodles (for longevity), rice, and sweet rice balls. Additionally, many believe that it is bad luck to mistreat or drop your chopsticks, and refills on rice are encouraged.
One of the most interesting things about Chinese culture is the emphasis on reverence to elders. As a southerner, I have always been taught to respect my elders, but the formality of reverence in Chinese culture is such a beautiful thing. For the New Year, it is customary to take apples and oranges to the host’s house, and to serve tea to older loved ones.
My favorite part of learning about Chinese New Year is the New Year Calendar, or the way the years are named for different animals (1995: year of the PIG!!) Every 12 years, the calendar repeats starting with the Rat. But all of the years and animals symbolize several different traits.
Rat: 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008,2020
Ox: 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Tiger: 1974,1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
Rabbit:1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Dragon: 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964
Snake: 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965
Horse: 2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966
Goat: 2015, 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967
Monkey: 2016, 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968
Rooster: 2017, 2005, 1993, 1981, 1969
Dog: 2018, 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970
Pig: 2019, 2007, 1995, 1983, 1971
People born in the year of Rooster are said to be: observant, hardworking, courageous, and confident. They are very active, and talkative, but extremely loyal. They enjoy the spotlight and sports. Roosters are most compatible with: Oxes, or Snakes. They are least compatible with: Rats, Rabbits, Horses, and Pigs. Famous Roosters include:Bob Marley, Britney Spears, and Jennifer Aniston.
Each zodiac in the Chinese calendar are also broken down into elemental types. This year isn’t just the year of the Rooster, but the Fire Rooster (how cool is that?). Along with the traditional characteristics of all Roosters, Fire Roosters have a heightened sense of responsibility and trustworthiness. Martin Luther King, Jr. is actually a Fire Rooster, and based on these characteristics, there is no better example.
Cultures mix and meld together in so many unique ways. One of the most exciting things about life, especially in today’s society, is that we get to share and learn about cultures every day. Millions of people experience different beliefs, holidays, and traditions. Stepping out of the box of our own cultural bubble isn’t just important, but FUN. Trying a new ethnic food, or going to a ethnic festival opens up doors to whole new worlds (literally). In the wake of Chinese New Year, it is the perfect opportunity to step out of that bubble and experience a whole new view on the world, the year, and the people around us. Take that opportunity and work on having a better year, maybe even the best year yet. The year of the Rooster is a perfect time to do that: step out of your bubble, step into the spotlight and strut your stuff.
“Happy New Year!”
Mary Clark is an editor at the Galleon and a senior at Christian Brothers University. She was also born in the year of the Pig.
The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.