Friday, February 8, 2008

What does the Chinese New Year
mean to you?

Please tell me!

What year is this? Most people in the world might tell you that it is 2008, and then wonder why you are asking such a silly question.

The traditional Chinese calendar did not use continuously numbered years, but experts consider the new year starting in 2008 to be the year 4705 (more on this later).

So, Happy New Year!

For Chinese people (yesterday!) New Year is a bit like Christmas in some of its characteristicsyou go home to be with family, everyone says happy new year to each other and they get a general warm feeling from this activity, not unlike when we wish someone Merry Christmas. It is a good time to give gifts. Additionally it is a good time to start something big...a family, a business. A friend of mine confirmed that the general good feeling might be connected to the idea that all people are bound by time, all sit under the same moon...and so wishing happy new year to someone is bearing witness to humanities connectedness. Whether this is accurate, it is certainly is a nice idea to recognized humanities connectedness.

It is important to keep in mind, that while this is the year of the rat, cultural linguistics is a touchy area. The words or connotations often associated with certain animals are not universal between eastern and western cultures. So if you are from the west, whatever your ideas are about rats (the bad one's that is), do not apply in Asia. And further, because Chinese have a traditional connection to certain zodiacal animals, criticizing a certain animal might be indirectly or subconsciously felt, as a criticism of a person who was born under that animal.

The warning goes two ways. If a Chinese person hears a westerner cringe to hear they are "a pig" or "a rat" and then say these animals are bad, you must understand they negativities that go with these animals in western culture.

Skipping the next 3-4 paragraphs will not cause you great suffering or loss of very relevant information. :)
So, now giving a little more on the real answer to the questions of what year it is, is much more complicated than I've already explained. The year is called wuzi 戊子 (zi meaning rat. The wu is a celestial term that does not translate directly into English.) We are in the 22nd year of the current 60 year cycle. For a detailed explanation of the 60 year cycles (each with their unique names, that are repeated endlessly until the end of time, and started at the calendar's inception in 2637 B.C.--4705 years ago), you can read more.

The current 60-year cycle started on Feb 2, 1984. That date bears the name bing-yin in the 60-day cycle, and the first month of that first year bears the name gui-chou in the 60-month cycle. We are starting the third 12 year cycle of the current 60 year cycle.

I am told that Chinese New Year (农历新年 Nónglì xīnnián) means "Agrarian Calendar New Year" or Spring Festival (春节 Chūnjié).

It is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays, but is not limited to just China. For reasons that might already seem obvious to you, it is sometimes called the Lunar New Year, especially by people outside China.

Here in Korea they also observe the Chinese New Year, however they refer to it as the Lunar New Year. In Korea, the Lunar New Year is second in importance to Chu'sok (추석), another lunar calendar event falling at the Autumn Equinox. (I won't go into the Mid-Autumn festival again. You can read about it in a previous post if you like.)

OK...Come back!
New Year is an important time in all of East Asia, China and Korea included. The festival traditionally begins on the first day of the first lunar month (正月 zhēng yuè) in the Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th, the Lantern Festival (元宵节 yuánxiāojié). I personally realy like the Lantern Festival because of the lovely lanterns that are hung all over. Xi'an has a famous lantern festival that is worth a visit if you ever have the opportunity.

This year the mass movement of Chinese people to their hometowns for Spring Festival was terribly and in some cases tragically interrupted by the record bad winter storms. Heavy snow, cold temperatures and ice badly affected the nation's infrastructure including transportation and electric power.

China has had a tremendous influence on its neighbors over the years, in language and many other areas of culture. The Lunar New Year is celebrated wherever large communities of ethnic Chinese live, as well as with many geographic neighbors including Koreans, Mongolians, Nepalese, Bhutanese, Vietnamese, and formerly the Japanese before 1873. In Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and other countries with significant Chinese populations, Chinese New Year is also celebrated, largely by overseas Chinese, but it is not part of the traditional culture of these countries. Canada has a large Chinese immigrant population (1 million+), relative to the total population of the country, and so the Chinese New Year is becoming increasingly important there.

In most of these cases, I suspect the time dedication to the holiday falls well short of the 15-day observance of the Chinese. In China the alloted time off from work has been shrinking, and workers are often asked to work weekends to make up for the weekdays give off.

In Korea there are only 3 days of holiday that are officially observed by the government. This is good for me. I found my gym was closed the last two days and so I was not able to get a work out (something my waistline is calling for). Were I in China the gym might be closed for a full week, or perhaps have limited hours of operation during the holiday.

I remember in China that stores would almost all be closed up by 6 pm during the time of the holiday, particularly for about a week starting at the new moon. For a foreigner residing in China, this can tend to be a boring time, with little to do except watch DVDs. Some people liked to travel because it is too cold to be wanting to go outside much, at least in the north of China.

Ok, some terribly technical jargon about Leap Years...
from someone else!

    Leap years have 13 months. To determine if a year is a leap year, calculate the number of new moons between the 11th month in one year (i.e., the month containing the Winter Solstice) and the 11th month in the following year. If there are 13 new moons from the start of the 11th month in the first year to the start of the 11th month in the second year, a leap month must be inserted.

    In leap years, at least one month does not contain a Principal Term. The first such month is the leap month. It carries the same number as the previous month, with the additional note that it is the leap month.

    The Current 60-Year Cycle

Rat 1984 1996 2008 2020 2032
Ox 1985 1997 2009 2021 2033
Tiger 1986 1998 2010 2022 2034
Rabbit 1987 1999 2011 2023 2035
Dragon 1988 2000 2012 2024 2036
Snake 1989 2001 2013 2025 2037
Horse 1990 2002 2014 2026 2038
Sheep 1991 2003 2015 2027 2039
Monkey 1992 2004 2016 2028 2040
Rooster 1993 2005
2017 2029 2041
Dog 1994 2006 2018 2030 2042
Boar 1995 2007 2019 2031 2043

The New Year Date for the previous 12 years and the coming 12 years is…
Animal Branch Dates

鼠 Rat 子 Zi 19-Feb-96 7-Feb-08 Chinese people will often use as question of someone's zodiac animal to determine their age.

Chinese traditionally believe that the characteristics of the animal sign under which you were born in hides in your heart.
牛 Ox 丑 Chou 7-Feb-97 26-Jan-09
虎 Tiger 寅 Yin 28-Jan-98 14-Feb-10
兔 Rabbit 卯 Mao 16-Feb-99 3-Feb-11
龍 Dragon 辰 Chen 5-Feb-00 23-Jan-12
蛇 Snake 巳 Si 24-Jan-01 10-Feb-13
馬 Horse 午 Wu 12-Feb-02 31-Jan-14
羊 Sheep 未 Wei 1-Feb-03 19-Feb-15
猴 Monkey 申 Shen 22-Jan-04 8-Feb-16
雞 Rooster 酉 You 9-Feb-05 28-Jan-17
狗 Dog 戌 Xu 29-Jan-06 16-Feb-18
豬 Pig 亥 Hai 18-Feb-07 5-Feb-19

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