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Lunar New Year Traditions in China: 2021 and the Year of the OX

Happy Lunar New Year! February 12, 2021 marks the first day of the Lunar New Year, also called the "Spring Festival" in China and Hong Kong, and this year celebrates the Year of the Ox. And certainly many are happy to leave behind the the riotous year of the Rat and usher in the OX, as "his job is not to put right what the Rat may have broken or the mess he may have created, but to settle things down, get things grounded and things operating smoothly and efficiently."

Year of the Ox in Chinese Zodiac

The Ox zodiac sign occupies the second position in the Chinese Zodiac, and those born under this year of the Ox can be seen as symbolizing confidence, power, stability, fertility, determination, and even stubbornness. Oxen can achieve their goals by consistent effort and they are not much influenced by others or the environment, but persist in doing things according to their ideals and capabilities. Learn more about the Year of the Ox here.

While the Zodiac is one of the most famous parts of the Chinese New Year, this major holiday has over 3,000 years of history with plenty of other traditions to discover!

Cleaning before the New Year

A week before the New Year even begins, people give their homes a thorough cleaning while they wait for their relatives to make their way home. Doing so represents a farewell to the old year and a clean slate for the new one with hopes of good fortune in the months to come.

New Year's Eve Dinner- the Role of Food

As with many festivals all over the world, food plays an important role during the Chinese New Year. Especially significant is the New Year’s Eve Dinner when family from all over spanning generations reunites under a single roof. On the menu is an arrangement of lucky dishes such as fish, which represents an increase in prosperity, and tangyuan, or sweet rice balls, which represent family togetherness.

Firecrackers to Ring in the New Year!

New Year’s wouldn’t be complete without fireworks! Legend has it that a monster known as Nian used to attack local villages on the first day of the New Year, eating the people and destroying their homes without mercy. Then one day, the villagers discovered that burning dry bamboo produced an explosive sound that scared the beast away. Since then, setting off firecrackers – and more recently fireworks – has become an important tradition.

Red Packets for Chinese New Year

A well-known Chinese New Year tradition is for family to hand out red packets. Known as hongbao in Mandarin and lai see in Cantonese, these packets contain monetary gifts, though it the red envelope itself that holds the most significance. This is because money wrapped in red is supposed to bestow good fortune and happiness on the receivers.

Day 5 in Chinese New Year Welcomes the God of Wealth

Called Po Woo or Po Wu, the fifth day of the Chinese New Year is celebrated as the birthday of the God of Wealth. Businesses begin to resume their day-to-day operations with many enjoying a dancing dragons performance in front of the office building to improve the prosperity and good fortune of their business. For those who do not have work, it is considered wise to spend as much of the day as possible at home in case the God of Wealth pays a visit.

Lantern Festival: Day 15 in the Lunar New Year

The New Year’s festivities come to a close on the 15th day with the magical lantern festival, which is February 26, 2021. This incredible display began in the Han Dynasty (25-220­) when the Emperor, an advocate of Buddhism, learned that monks were lighting lanterns of the 15th day of the first lunar month to show respect to Buddha and ordered that all the temples, households, and royal palaces do the same. The most important customs on this day are lighting lanterns – whether floating, fixed, held, or flying – guessing riddles written on the lanterns, eating tangyuan, and lion dances.

The many traditions of the Lunar New Year are only a small fraction of what you can learn about in person on an exciting, culturally immersive adventure to China. Sadly, due to COVID19, we are not currently operating our China Learn, Serve & Immerse trips, but please contact us if you are interested in learning more when we begin to travel there again!

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