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Gongxi Facai! (“Happy New Year!")

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Best wishes for much health, prosperity, and happiness to all who celebrate this special time of the year! To all those who traditionally do not, but who would like to, here are some interesting facts about this East Asian New Year celebration:

  • It’s not called the Chinese New Year, as many other east Asian cultures celebrate the holiday, such as Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Japan, and Korea, among others. The holiday in China is referred to as the Spring Festival, as it occurs just prior to the beginning of spring, with roots dating back to over five thousand years ago when everyone and everything was based on an agricultural timetable. Because many ancient calendars in Asia are based on lunar cycles, the holiday is also a “Lunar New Year.” Many other cultures, in addition to Asian cultures, have lunar calendars with a New Year celebration, but celebrate their New Year each at different times. Much of the Arab world celebrates a Lunar New Year as well. The one we are celebrating now, however, is best referred to as the Tet Lunar New Year, as all the cultures that celebrate it do so around the same time, and share the same traditions.

  • Given the massive size of China’s population, the celebration in China also represents the greatest annual population migration in the world -- every year, millions of Chinese (mainly young, single, and upwardly mobile city-dwellers) travel back to their families in smaller towns and villages, to celebrate the traditionally week-long festival.

  • This celebration typically takes the form of feasts and visits. Given that religious traditions in China are more like guiding philosophies than institutionalized religions, the Spring Festival is celebrated more as an opportunity to socialize and reinforce old relationships than an opportunity for western-style worship. Nevertheless, visits to temples and shrines can be a part of the festivities.

  • Dragon.jpegThe dragon is a Chinese symbol of power, prosperity, and vitality, and therefore is an important element in every Spring Festival celebration. Dragon dances through the streets of every city and town are common.
  • Accompanying the dragon is the noise of firecrackers. Traditionally, the more noise, the better. The noise is thought to to scare away evil forces, keeping them at bay for another year. Besides, it’s all in good fun, so keep those gongs gonging and firecrackers popping!

  • Red is the traditional Chinese color representing health and youth, while gold is the traditional Chinese color for wealth and prosperity. No wonder these colors are the most popular colors for celebrating the holiday throughout the year in China.

  • Although an ancient celebration, Spring Festival has taken on modern forms. For example, it is common for managers and superiors to hand out the annual bonuses to their staff just prior to the beginning of the holiday, before individuals leave for their travels home. Typically, the bonus is a month’s salary, and it is always presented in a red envelope. The bonus inside is always in cash, and the cash must be crisp, fresh bills.

  • Because traveling can be extensive and costly, the holiday typically lasts a full week, although with more individuals and their families increasingly living in major urban centers, there is pressure to reduce the actual time off for Spring Festival to 3 days. Whether celebrated for a full week or just a few days, Spring Festival is not the time to consider getting business done in China. It is the most important “time-off” event in the year, and everyone eagerly looks forward to it.

  • Each year is one of twelve based on the Chinese zodiac, and each year is represented by an animal. This year, 2017 on the western calendar, is the Year of the Rooster. Each animal in the zodiac 12-year cycle represents traits and orientations that are said to be present in the individuals born in that year. Depending on the type of rooster (yes, it can get a bit complicated), individuals born in a Year of the Rooster are said to be determined, brave, persevering, quick-witted, and good-hearted.

But no matter the year, the greeting is always, “Gongxi Facai!” ('Gong Shee Fat Choi').

Happy New Year!

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