Chinese New Year: Welcome the Year of the Rooster!

Dragon held by people in sunny bustling downtown city

A Lunar New Year celebration in Australia, 2014. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, JANUARY 28: The Chinese Year of the Rooster starts today with a 15-day celebration that circles the globe.

The color red, which is considered auspicious and homophonous with the Chinese word for “prosperous,” dominates décor in nearly every event. The Spring Festival, as it is also termed, ushers in warmer weather and marks the time of great gatherings among family and friends. When the New Year approaches, it is customarily ushered in with a Reunion Dinner that is replete with symbolic foods. For two weeks, visits are made and hosted with family and friends, gifts are exchanged and merriment is par for the course.

This festival also represents the world’s greatest annual human migration. The Reuters news service reports on January 23: “People are joining in the world’s largest human migration and are leaving China’s capital by train, making their way home for family reunions during the Lunar New Year holidays. The 40-day travel frenzy surrounding the week-long Lunar New Year began on January 13, and will last until February 21. During this period, the estimated total volume of people traveling is expected to be almost 3 billion, up 2.2 percent from the previous year, according to China’s Transport Ministry.

CHINESE NEW YEAR:
FROM BUDDHA TO THE ROOSTER

Legend has it that when the Buddha (or the Jade Emperor) invited animals to a New Year’s celebration, only 12 showed up; these 12 animals were each rewarded with a year. Tradition has it that a person’s birth year indicates that he or she will possess the characteristics of the animal in reign during that year. In 2017, the 10th animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac—the rooster—will have supremacy.

A 15-DAY FESTIVAL:
DINNERS, RED ENVELOPES & LANTERNS

Unrivaled among Chinese holidays, the New Year begins weeks in advance with families cleaning and hanging paper cutouts in their homes, shopping for fish, meats and other specialty foods, and purchasing new clothing. Businesses pay off debts, gifts are distributed to business associates and everything is completed according to symbolism—for good luck, prosperity and health in the coming year.  In Buddhist and Taoist households, home altars and statues are cleaned.

On the eve of the New Year, a Reunion Dinner is shared with extended family members. Dumplings, meat dishes, fish and an assortment of hot and cold dishes are considered essential for the table. Traditionally, red envelopes filled with money or chocolate coins are given to children. Following dinner, some families visit a local temple.

For the next two weeks, feasts will be shared with family and friends, fireworks will fill the skies and parades with dragons and costumes will fill the streets. Friends and relatives frequently bring a Tray of Togetherness to the households they visit, as a token of thanks to the host. Through the New Year festivities, elders are honored and deities are paid homage, with all festivities being wrapped up with the Lantern Festival.

HOMEMADE CHINESE DINNER

If carryout isn’t your idea of an authentic Chinese experience, check out these sites for delicious New Year recipes:

It’s Spring! Enjoy these nationwide themes at work and home!

Field of yellow flowers beneath blue sky with some white clouds

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

APRIL and MAY 2015—Spring is in full swing as April and May unfold, bringing a rainbow of colors with flowers in the fields, in parks and in gardens everywhere. Till some soil and showcase the beauty of nature, because Earth Day and Arbor Day are both in April. Encourage conservation during National Park Week (April 18-26), and then welcome spring at its fullest on May Day.

If you’re stuck inside, days at the office are more fun by observing the Administrative Professionals Day in April, which may sound awkward, but your office will be a happier place if you remember it! There’s a lot of action at work this spring with Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, too. After work, spend some quality time with the family—May is National Family Month.

With warm weather and spring in the air, get outside and get active, as May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Surprise Mom with some flowers on May 10, for the American Mother’s Day, and remember the fallen on Memorial Day.

Also, bring awareness of Jewish American heritage and Asian/Pacific American heritage, as both will highlighted. Don’t forget about Mexican heritage, too—May 5 is Cinco de Mayo!

The month of April raises awareness of autism, and May brings Arthritis Awareness, Asthma Awareness and National Stroke Awareness Month. May is also Older Americans Month, so pay special attention to the older persons in your life—and learn more about the public issues that concern them. Eager to get outside and grill? May is National Barbecue Month and National Hamburger Month, so dust off those grills and fire ‘em up.

Check out these highlights …

APRIL: EARTH DAY

Flat view of countries and oceans, world

Photo in public domain

Examine your daily impact on the environment—and what you can do to improve your carbon footprint—on Earth Day, an annual event that encourages all of us to understand environmental issues and take action. The first Earth Day launched in 1970, following a UNESCO Conference and fueled, in part, by the aftermath of a massive oil spill near the coast of California. An environmental teach-in drew 20 million participants nationwide and focused efforts within the United States. Since its fledgling beginnings, Earth Day has grown exponentially in global efforts, and now reaches close to 200 countries. This year, on the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, the theme “It’s our turn to lead” brings grassroots to the forefront and encourages every world citizen to lead by example.

Make a difference! The year 2015 has been named the International Year of Soils by the United Nations. By composting your old fruit and vegetable peels, you can create rich soil—instead of letting the peels decompose in landfills where, without oxygen, they create methane. (Get a how-to here.) Methane has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

MAY: CINCO DE MAYO

Soft tacos on plate topped with fresh lettuce, onions, tomatoes and other fixings

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Each year on May 5, citizens of the U.S., Mexico and beyond celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the anniversary of the 1862 Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla. May 5 often is mistaken for Mexico’s Independence Day. But, Cinco de Mayo is a big celebration of Mexican culture, history and cuisine around the world. What began as a small celebration by Mexicans in California, excited by news of the victory in 1862, has been observed in California ever since. In the 1940s, the Chicano movement fueled national celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, and Cinco de Mayo soon became a national commemoration for Mexican culture. On June 7, 2005, Congress issued a resolution calling on the President of the United States to issue a proclamation for the American people to observe Cinco de Mayo. Today, Mexican heritage is on display in schools, restaurants, public buildings and more worldwide.

Hungry for some authentic Mexican recipes? Find ideas at Food Network, Food & Wine and AllRecipes.

Young woman, fit, with weights in her hands and bending down

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MAY: PHYSICAL FITNESS AND SPORTS 

There’s no better time to get out and get active! Spring weather is rolling across the Northern Hemisphere, and May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Only 1 in 5 adults gets enough physical activity to see substantial health benefits, according to national reports. And those benefits are important: a lowered risk of heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes and some types of cancer are among a few. Studies also show that children who get enough exercise perform better in school, and fit older adults experience fewer falls and generally have better mental functioning. Spread awareness of the importance of physical fitness by holding a community event, Tweeting about the cause or writing about sports and health in a newsletter or on a blog. Aim to get 60 minutes of exercise per day, by walking, bike riding or using an outdoor community play area. Consider exercising during part of a lunch break at work.

Having trouble getting your family outdoors? Become part of UofM Dr. Wayne Baker’s campaign #OurKidsEarth

Learn more by visiting HealthFinder.gov and CDC.gov.

MAY: OLDER AMERICANS MONTH

Older couple in hammock, smiling, man kissing woman on cheek

Photo by Patrick, courtesy of Flickr

The Administration for Community Living urges Americans to set aside time each May to observe Older Americans Month. In recognition of the contributions that seniors have made to their country, Older Americans Month promotes health and longevity of these important citizens through awareness programs, campaigns and more. This year, on the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act, the theme is Get into the Act. Older Americans are being urged to engage in their communities through volunteering, mentoring and more. By highlighting issues like elder abuse and promoting healthy aging, and establishing programs that properly address the needs of older adults, the Administration for Community Living hopes to create a better quality of living for all older Americans.

Equinox: Spring brings Nowruz New Year, Hindu Ugadi and Pagan Ostara

Pink flower spring tree buds against blue sky

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

FRIDAY, MARCH 20 and SATURDAY, MARCH 21: All across the Northern Hemisphere, men, women and children are longing for spring, marked by the vernal equinox. This ancient cycle fuels celebrations worldwide:

  • In many parts of the Middle East and Asia, the ancient holiday is known as Nowruz. For Bahai’s, it’s Naw-Ruz.
  • For many Hindus, it’s Ugadi.
  • For Pagans and Wiccans, it’s Ostara.

Though the names and specific rituals may differ, the theme is joy in the promises of new life that comes in the spring season. As the darkness of winter lifts, communities rejoice. Whether it’s Kurds in Turkey jumping over fires, Iranians sprouting grains or Wiccans discussing the symbolism of the egg, all embrace the rejuvenation of the season.

VERNAL EQUINOX: SPRING IN THE NORTH

On March 20 at 22:45 UTC, the 2015 vernal equinox will occur—and for those in the Northern Hemisphere, that signals springtime. Though day and night are not exactly equal in duration on the equinox—that event is known as equilux, and varies by location—the plane of the Earth’s Equator passes the center of the sun on the equinoxes. During the equinox, length of daylight is (theoretically) the same at all points on the Earth.

In Chinese belief, spring is associated with a green dragon and the direction east: the green dragon for the green sprouts of spring, and east as the direction of sunrise and the beginning of each day. This year, a special astronomical event will occur on the equinox: a solar eclipse, estimated to be visible across Northern Africa, Europe and Northern Asia. (The UK’s Mirror reported.) The solar eclipse is expected to be the largest since August 1999.

NOWRUZ: IRANIANS, ZOROASTRIANS AND THE HAFT-SIN TABLE

Table in dark room with lit candles, covered in varied objects such as apples, garlic and golden eggs

A Haft-Sin table. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Spellings vary widely, but across much of the Middle East, Central and South Asia—Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and more—as well as by Zoroastrians and other religious and ethnic groups, the vernal equinox marks Nowruz, the New Year holiday.

Classified among UNESCO’s Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Iranian/Persian New Year dates back hundreds of years BCE. Many believe that Nowruz is rooted in Zoroastrianism and was started by Zarathustra, though some place the festival’s origin centuries before Zoroaster.

Nowruz dawns as the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. Nowruz is a very important holiday in Iran and for Zoroastrians. Extensive spring cleaning begins a month prior to Nowruz, and new clothing is bought in anticipation of the 12-day celebrations that include numerous visits to family and friends. Prior and sometimes during the festival, fires are lit that reflect the Zoroastrian perspective on light’s victory over darkness. Many Iranians put up a Haft Sin table, covered with seven symbolic items. Items vary slightly but may include apples, mirrors, candles, sprouted wheat or barley, painted eggs, rose water, dried fruit, garlic, vinegar, coins and a holy book. (Wikipedia has details.) Parsi Zoroastrians set up a “sesh” tray, filled with rose water, a betel nut, raw rice, raw sugar, flowers, a wick in a glass and a picture of Zarathustra. On the 13th day of the New Year festival, families head outdoors for picnics, music and dancing.

NAW-RUZ: BAHA’I NEW YEAR

Baha’is have been fasting for the past month, and after sunset on March 19, that fast is broken—for Naw-Ruz, the Baha’i New Year. One of nine holy days of the month, Naw-Ruz was instituted by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, as a time for great joy. No set rituals exist for Naw-Ruz, and most Baha’is gather for a community meal and read sacred Baha’i writings. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, described the equinox as a symbol of the messengers of God, with their message as the spiritual springtime that is Naw-Ruz. This year, for the first time, the New Year will begin on the day of the vernal equinox, and not fixed on March 21. (Previously, Naw-Ruz was fixed on March 21 for Baha’is living outside of the Middle East.)

UGADI: RELIGIOUS FORECAST; SIX TASTES

Bunches of green leaves tied unto string, hanging, with Hindu structure in background

Garlands of tied mango leaves are strung for Ugadi. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

For Hindus and the people of the Deccan region of India, March 21 means (Y)ugadi, derived from Sanskrit as “the beginning of a new age.” Names for the festival vary by region, but across India, Ugadi specifically refers to the start of our current age, Kali Yuga. According to Hindu legend, Kali Yuga began in 3102 BCE, at the moment Lord Krishna left the world. On Yugadi, people traditionally gather to listen to the recitation of the religious almanac of the new year—or, in other words, a forecast of the coming year. Hindus used to gather in temples to hear the Ugadi forecast, but today, priest-scholar recitations can be viewed on television or the almanac might be read by an elder in other settings.

On this auspicious day, extended families gather and ritual baths are taken before prayers. Carefully cleaned homes welcome visitors with an entrance draped in fresh mango leaves. (Wikipedia has details.) In many regions, a dish of six tastes is partaken with a symbolism that represents the varied experiences of life. Most commonly, neem buds and flowers symbolize sadness; jaggery and banana signify happiness; green chili peppers represent anger; salt indicates fear; taramind juice symbolizes disgust; and unripened mango translates to surprise. This year, transportation corporations and railways have announced the necessity of hundreds of extra trains and buses for Ugadi crowds.

OSTARA: PAGANS AND WICCANS CELEBRATE

Symbols of eggs and rabbits illustrate the Pagan and Wiccan holiday of Ostara, known also for the goddess of spring by the same name. Ostara, or Eostre, is the ancient goddess of spring and dawn who presides over fertility, conception and pollination. Symbols of eggs and rabbits represent the fertility of springtime, and in centuries past, these symbols were often used in fertility rituals. The next full moon, also called Ostara, is known as a time of increased births.

As the trees begin to bud and new plants emerge, modern Pagans and Wiccans fast from winter’s heavy foods and partake in the fresh vegetables and herbs of springtime. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) Traditional foods for this time are leafy green vegetables, dairy foods, nuts and sprouts; favored activities include planting a garden and taking a walk in nature.

Makar Sankranti: In India and Nepal, kites fly to welcome spring

Very colorful reels of kite strings stacked

Wheels of colorful kite strings for sale in Ahmedabad, India. Photo by Meena Kadri, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 14: Kites fill the skies and the first scents of spring are in the air, as Hindus mark the astrological and seasonal festival of Makar Sankranti. Named for the entrance of the sun into the Tropic of Capricorn (Sanskrit: Makara), it is during this springtime festival that Hindus rejoice in the departure of the darkest, coldest time of year. At this time, the harvest season begins and the northeast monsoon ceases. Sacred rituals resume, a New Year is welcomed and thanks are given to the sun and the earth. Several deities are worshiped on Makar Sankranti—preferences vary by region—but all rejoice with plenty of sweet treats, dancing, family reunions and dips in sacred bodies of water. Across India, millions of kites are raised high into the skies (as is detailed by this article, from The Hindu) .

MAKAR SANKRANTI:
A FESTIVAL BY MANY NAMES

Man sitting beneath marketplace tent, surrounded by multicolored strings on spools

A kite seller in India, for Makar Sankranti. Photo by Rajesh Pamnani, courtesy of Flickr

Though celebrated throughout India and in Nepal, Makar Sankranti takes on several varied names and beloved customs. Observed for up to four days, Makar Sankranti is sometimes preceded by Lohri, an evening filled with enormous bonfires and ceremonial dancing. In Nepal, Hindus feast on laddoo, ghee and sweet potatoes during the Maghe Sankranti festival, at which time the mother of each household wishes good health to all family members.

In Andhra Pradesh and Telengana, India, Hindus light bonfires with old and unnecessary items, making room in their lives for change and transformation. Brothers visit married sisters during the day, and gifts of food, clothes and money are widely distributed. Prayers and new clothes mark the auspicious occasion, and during the course of the festival, animals are revered. Prepared food is always warming and energizing. (Wikipedia has details.)

Citizens of Maharashtra, India, exchange sweets as forgiveness of past ill deeds, while women in the region give and receive household gifts. Some Hindu children welcome migratory birds with food and song, and in various regions, a pot of rice boiling over is cause for a shout of “Ponggalo Ponggal!” with wishes for a blessed New Year.

Makar Sankranti is, universally, considered a period of enlightenment and prosperity. Melas, or fairs, are held across India.

PETA REQUESTS A MANJA-FREE HOLIDAY,
‘ANGRY BIRDS’ KITES BOOMING

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) representatives are spreading messages of a safe Makar Sankranti for birds across India, urging kite-flyers to use cotton strings instead of the glass-covered manja strings popular for cutting down others’ kites. (The Times of India and Zee News reported.) Demonstrations, campaigns and posters remind Hindus that almost thousands of birds are injured or killed every year during Makar Sankranti, and that manja strings pose dangers for people, too. Ironically, birds are also one of the most popular themes for kite design this year. News reports are citing “Angry Birds” characters as one of the most highly requested images for kites in 2015.

Interested in making a kite? Learn how, with tips from PBS.