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Year of the Rabbit: Happy Chinese New Year 2023!

Pop Culture

January 19, 2023

Although much of America has already rung in the new year, it's now China's turn to extend a welcome. Though this holiday isn't celebrated by staying up until midnight, there are many traditions, as well as a rich history, that make Chinese New Year unique!

What is Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year is celebrated by 1/6 of the world's population, making it a reason to celebrate for many Asian teens. Unlike many other holidays, Chinese New Year does not fall on one designated day. Instead, it follows the lunar calendar, making the day arbitrary from year to year.

Typically though, this holiday falls somewhere between January 21 to February 19. Ironically, China officially adopted the western calendar in 1912 and recognizes January 1 as the official start of the year. However, Chinese New Year still remains as one of the most important celebrations in Chinese culture.

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Why is it the "Year of the Rabbit?"

According to the Chinese zodiac, each year is assigned one out of twelve animals. 2023 happens to land on the rabbit! Predictably, there is a story behind the arrangement of the Chinese zodiac.

As the legend goes, the Jade Emperor created a race for the animals of the world. The first twelve animals to cross the river would get a spot on the zodiac in the order they arrived. Thinking ahead, the rat rose early and asked some animals to help cross the river, as he was very small.

The ox agreed to help him, but as soon as they got close to the riverbank, the rat jumped off the ox's head and secured first place. The ox came in second, followed by the tiger, rabbit, dragon and snake. In seventh came the horse, and together came the sheep, monkey and rooster, on a raft.

When they reached the shore, the trio agreed to give the sheep eighth place, followed by the monkey, then the rooster. Finally, the dog, who had stopped to play in the water, then the pig who had stopped to snack. In this legend, also known as the "Great Race," these twelve animals were assigned a spot on the Chinese zodiac.

However, not only is each year assigned to an animal, but what animal your birth year lands on supposedly says something about you. People born in the year of the rabbit are considered to be gentle, peaceful, compassionate and merciful. Basically, the characteristics you would give to a rabbit! If you would like to know more about the characteristics of each animal on the Chinese zodiac, check out this site!

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Why is Everything Red?

Hong bao, meaning "red packet," are small, red paper envelopes filled with money that adults give to kids, or the married give to the unmarried. As the color red is considered lucky, the money inside is considered "lucky money!" The amount in the packet differs as to how well you know the other person. Usually, the better you know the person, the more you will give them.

However, hong bao is not the only red-colored symbol of Chinese New Year! A popular decoration, spring couplets, often adorn the outside of people's homes, or hang from the interior. These couplets, or poems, are written in Chinese characters on red paper, bringing in wishes for the new year.

So why is the color red so prominent in Chinese New Year? You guessed it—there's an ancient legend attached. If you haven't figured it out by now, many of the traditions in Chinese New Year are based off legends and superstitions.

The legend goes like this: long ago, there was a monster that would rise out of the sea and eat children. The people were terrified until they realized that the sea monster was afraid of two things: loud noises and the color red. To this day, many, if not all, of Chinese New Year decorations are red.

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Just like every holiday around the world, Chinese New Year has a unique set of foods that distinguish it from the rest. First, of course, are dumplings. Families make dumplings as a family activity, filling the outer dough with a homemade combination of meat, some veggies and spices. However, like many customs in Chinese New Year, certain foods are said to bring goodness to your year.

One of the most prominent examples of this is noodles. Don't cut noodles while eating them during Chinese New Year, or your life will be cut short!

Fish is the second staple at a Chinese New Year celebration. Predictably, there is a superstition attached to this dish as well. Don't flip the fish over, or you are "flipping over your luck!"

Another example would be good fortune fruit, such as oranges, tangerines, and pomelos. These are common gifts during this holiday and, as the name implies, they supposedly bring good happenings to your year. Other common foods include glutinous rice balls, wontons, and spring rolls, many of which are familiar in American markets as well!

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What Do People Do in the Days Leading Up to Chinese New Year?

As would be expected for a new start, people begin by deep-cleaning their house. According to superstition, this clears out ghosts and evil spirits from your house. Many people go shopping for new clothes, because...you guessed it, it brings good luck! Additionally, many get their hair done and pay off debts to leave financial problems in the past year.

Finally, they may strive to clear up arguments with others. All things considered, these customs do not differ much from the western tradition of creating new year's resolutions. Both in western New Year and Chinese New Year, people do their best to leave their problems behind in the past year and start the new year fresh and without regret!

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Possibly the prettiest part of Chinese New Year are the lanterns! According to a legend (of course!), a palace girl in the emperor's palace was homesick for her family. One day, a man walked by, heard her crying and promised to help her. He began by setting up fortune-telling booths around the city but told everyone that came by that a fire-breathing dragon was going to burn down the city.

Falling for the trap, the emperor believed this lie, and ordered lanterns to be set up around the city, so when the dragon came, it would believe it had already set the city on fire. Coming to admire the lanterns was the palace girl's family, where they were able to reunite thanks to the help of the kind man. Today, lanterns are still set up for Chinese New Year, and children walk around with their own little lanterns after dark (supervized!).

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Chinese New Year is a holiday celebrated not just in China, but in many other parts of the world as well. As immigration around the world has increased over the years, people bring their culture and customs with them. In fact, one of the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations around the world is in San Francisco, an area where the Chinese first settled in the 1840s-1850s in response to the gold rush.

Although this celebration certainly differs from the western customs for the new year, the many superstitions behind it make for a very interesting topic. In 2023, the "Year of the Rabbit" will land on January 22. Be sure to say "Happy Chinese New Year!"

Adeline Yang
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Writer since May, 2022 · 14 published articles

Adeline, known by friends and family as Addie, can be found reading, practicing her instruments, running or eating ice cream. She has two dogs, Ellie and Raegan!