Chinese New Year: Welcome the Year of the Goat

Oranges with green leaf tops on red black-print patterned paper with wooden reeds in back

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19: The Chinese Year of the Goat 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.

CHINESE NEW YEAR:
FROM BUDDHA TO THE GOAT

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 2015, the eighth animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac—the goat—will have supremacy. (Select watch brands have designed goat faces for this event, as Forbes reported.) The goat represents independence and an observant nature.

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

Vase with branches with red envelopes hanging all over branches

Red envelopes hang from branches at the Pechanga Resort and Casino, in California. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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. (Wikipedia has details.) 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. (News alert: This year, Filipino-Chinese and Chinese Catholics in Manila were granted an episcopal jurisdiction exemption for Ash Wednesday fasting, in light of the eve of Chinese New Year.) 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. (View colorful photos from CNN.) 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:

IN THE NEWS:
DIGITAL RED ENVELOPES
AND SYDNEY’S GIGANTIC DISPLAY

A new approach to the red envelope tradition was unveiled last month, when the company Tencent announced the capability to send electronic red packets via smartphone. (CNBC has the story.) The service, which saw $2.9 million worth of transfers in its first 24 hours, allows users to send and receive digital envelopes of money.

In Australia, 90 warriors originally created for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games are lighting up Sydney Harbour, as part of the city’s Chinese New Year Festival. The warriors, which are modeled after the terracotta warriors found in the tomb of China’s first Emperor in 1974, are lit in red, green, yellow and blue. (Read more from ABC.net.) Australia’s program is the largest Lunar New Year celebration outside of Asia.