Year of the Rabbit

Chinese New Year, alternately known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year is the most important traditional Chinese holiday. The New Year festival begins on the day of the new moon which is the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar. Chinese New Year ends on the full moon 15 days later culminating in a traditional Lantern Festival.  Each Chinese New Year has an animal of the Chinese zodiac associated with it.  2011 was the Year of the Rabbit and began on February 3rd.  The next rabbit year will be Chinese New Year 2023.  The past Chinese New Year 2012 celebration ushered in the Year of the Dragon.

The Chinese Lunar Calendar

The Chinese lunar calendar uses a 12-year cycle. 12 animals are used to symbolize each of the 12 years. According to legend, Buddha requested all the animals to come to a meeting on Chinese New Year. Only twelve came, and therefore He named a year after each of them. 2012 for example is the Year of the Dragon and Chinese New Year 2013 will be the Year of the Snake and Chinese New Year 2014 will be the Year of the Horse.

Chinese New Year is celebrated throughout the world in countries with significant Chinese populations. It is an official holiday in many countries including Mainland China, Indonesia, Hong Kong SAR, Macau, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Many countries such as the United States, Australia and Canada do not recognize Chinese New Year as an official holiday, but major celebrations and festivities still take place in the larger cities with ‘Chinatown’ or significant Chinese immigrant populations. National postal services in these countries traditionally issue Chinese New Year stamps featuring the animal symbolizing each particular year.  For the Year of the Rabbit, these will naturally feature a rabbit.

Chinese New Year Traditions

Regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese New Year vary widely. However there are many common practices which are familiar to most Chinese throughout the world who celebrate the holiday.

Happy Chinese New YearOn Chinese New Years’ Eve families gather together for a feast which often includes such foods as fish, pork, duck, chicken, noodles and sweet delicacies. Many foods are symbolic such as noodles which symbolize long life. Families may end the night by setting off fireworks. Some households may stay awake the entire night, often playing mahjong to pass the time. On this night, or the next morning, children will wish their parents and other elders in the family a happy new year and receive red envelopes from them. These red paper envelopes will contain money in amounts considered to be auspicious numbers. For example 400 or 4000 in currency would never be given as the number four has a similar sound to the word for death in Mandarin Chinese.

Children are also often given new clothing for Chinese New Year and adults purchase new clothing as well to symbolize the Lunar Holiday. The succeeding days of Chinese New Years festivities are then occupied with visits to relatives and friends or staying home with the family and receiving visitors themselves.

Chinese New Year is a festive and widely celebrated holiday and it generally a time of optimism and joy. It has a similar feeling to that of Christmas to those more familiar with western traditions. If you are lucky enough to be invited to participate in a Chinese New Years celebration don’t pass up the chance. You may also want consider preparing some red envelopes with lucky money if children will be present.

You'll have a wait coming for the next Year of the Rabbit but at least you've got plenty of time to gear up to celebrate the next Year of the Rabbit in 2023 - Gong Xi Fa Zai!

Happy Chinese New Year