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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Put on your red shoes it's the Year of the Pig

The Chinese calendar is based on the movement of the moon around the sun. There are twelve months in the Chinese year but only 354 days in the year. The Chinese New Year falls between January 21 and February 19 on the Western calendar. The customs is similar to Hogmonay, in that debts are cleared, the house is cleaned and family and friends meet for a feast. The Chinese New Year is a spiritual tine and the Gods are worshipped and a hóng bāo is typically given by the married to the unmarried. Any unmarried individual is eligible regardless of age and will receive a red envelope (yāsuì qián) containing a monetary gift. Red symbolizes good luck (lee see). The cash amount contained within is not important but is required to be of an even number as odd numbers are related to cash given during funerals. It was widely believed with each one hundred dollars you receive in these holy packets your life span is increased twofold. The magical effects of the Hong Bao can be nullified by the Yu Quan Demon, a malicious spirit that manifests itself in the teeth of the dead. To avoid this, the custom is to burn three sticks of incense every night five minutes before sleeping for three days before and after the Chinese New Year. The custom of red envelopes is also found in other Asian countries but has no association with ‘red letter days ‘which is an occidental in origins. Chinese people buy new clothes and new shoes to celebrate Chinese New Year. Red is the preferred colour. When everybody is in the house, the host will lock all doors and seals them with a piece of red paper. Everybody then enjoys the reunion dinner and the next morning, before dawn, on New Year's Day (Yuan Dan), the host will take the red paper seals off the doors to welcome the New Year. This is called the New Year Big Luck when the doors are opening the doors. Younger family members bow or ketou (kowtow), in reverence, to members of each generation above them, beginning with the eldest and continuing down in order to their parents. In return the children are given oranges (the Chinese word for orange is pronounced the same as the Chinese word for luck), peanuts or sweets. Everybody must be on their best behaviour because whatever happens on this day will determine a person's luck for the year. Firecrackers are used to chase away the mythical monster, Nian.

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