Tao, Buddhist, Confucian: Happy Chinese New Year!

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 3: Get out your best clothing for the Chinese New Year of the Rabbit! And that just might be your gym shoes, this year, considering the stir Nike is causing with a couple of exclusive Year of the Rabbit shoes. One version that eventually will sell in the U.S. for about $180 debuts in China today with distinctive red and gold coloring for the holiday. A less-expensive design actually shows a rabbit hopping across the back of the shoes. And you thought American Christmas was overly commercialized!

For the next 15 days, China—along with Chinese populations living in other countries—will be celebrating with special foods, friendly visits and careful attention to ensuring good luck in the coming year. Post offices in Australia, Canada and the U.S. even issue a Chinese New Year stamp; and Chinatowns around the world decorate en masse. (Wikipedia has details.) Traditionally, Buddhists and Taoists welcome deities into their homes today, after visits to temples. In the home, altars and statues are cleaned thoroughly. For some Buddhists, today is also the birthday of Maitreya Bodhisattva.

The Chinese New Year (also known as “Spring Festival”) is based on the ancient Chinese lunisolar calendar, which means that time is balanced using both moon cycles and the seasons of the solar year. (The History Channel’s interactive site has more information.) Celebrate in your own home with recipes, kid craft ideas and more at Kaboose. Or, check out PBS Kids for online games related to the New Year. Hungry? Try a recipe for Sweet and Sour Chicken from AllRecipes.

Legend has it that a mythical beast called the Nian terrorized villagers until, one day, the Chinese people learned that it feared the color red. To this day, red is the most widely used color in Chinese New Year decorations. Each day of the lengthy New Year celebration holds a different purpose: on the second day, married daughters visit their birth parents and dogs’ birthdays are celebrated; on the fifth day, it is the birthday of the god of wealth; and on the 13th day, people eat vegetarian food to cleanse their systems of the overconsumption of food during the past couple of weeks.

Residents of Beijing have an extra reason to celebrate. (The Guardian, a UK publication, has a full article.) When the Chinese government attempted to control the terrible smog over Beijing recently, it cut pollution from coal burning and vehicle exhaust in half. The Chinese in Beijing will welcome a New Year with the city’s first month of consistent blue skies in a decade.

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