Gung Hay Fat Choy! Welcome To The Year Of The Rat!

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Chinese New Year, which will be celebrated on January 25, 2020, is China's most important festival (Credit: Chinesenewyear.net)

On January 25, 2020, over 1.6 billion people of Asian descent across the globe will celebrate the first day of the Chinese New Year — China's grandest festival and longest public holiday. Also known as the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, it is observed on the first day of the lunar calendar, the dates of which fall somewhere between January 21 and February 20 annually.

The over 3,000-year-old festival is believed to have begun after some villagers chased away a terrifying monster called the Nian with loud noises, fire, and red banners on the eve of the Lunar New Year. In China, the new year celebrations now last 15 days and result in the world's largest human migration, as millions of city dwellers take advantage of the mandatory seven day holiday and return home to spend time with family and friends.

The 15-day-long Chinese New Year Festival is celebrated with many traditions (Credit: Travelchinaguide.com)

This year's celebration kicked-off on January 17, 2020, with Little Year or "Xiaonian" — a day for memorial and prayer ceremonies. One of the most popular traditions on this day is burning a paper image of Zao Jun, the Kitchen God. This simple act is believed to dispatch the Kitchen God's soul to heaven, where it can give a recap of the family's conduct over the previous year. The deity is welcomed back into the home with a new image pasted near the cooking range and a delectable feast, mostly comprising treats like sweet bean paste, fruits, and barley sugar. This is to ensure that Zao Jun's spirit reports only positive things about the family the following year.

Many people also use the occasion to spring clean homes to sweep away bad luck, and hang spring couplets — red decorations hung in pairs — on doorways for prosperity. Since red is believed to bring good fortune, the color is prominently featured in everything from clothing to the lanterns used to decorate residences.

The New Year's Eve feast is rooted in Chinese traditions (Credit: Travelchinaguide.com)

The festivities will begin in earnest on the night of January 24, 2020, with a family dinner to welcome those who have traveled long distances and endured the Chunyun to be together. Often regarded as the year's most important meal, the delicious feast's menu is grounded in Chinese traditions. A whole chicken symbolizes family togetherness, while long, uncut noodles indicate longevity. Wealth and prosperity are embodied by dumplings that look like ingots (ancient Chinese currency) and spring rolls, which resemble gold bars. Though the rest of the food items vary depending on family preferences, there are usually eight or nine dishes in total because, in the Chinese culture, the number eight represents success, while nine represents infinity.

Chinese New Year is particularly exciting for kids in China, who get a week, or two, off from school. They also receive numerous red envelopes filled with money and inspiring messages from older family members, and are allowed to stay up late to watch the celebratory fireworks shows staged to welcome the new year.

The Chinese New Year festivities end with the Lantern Festival on the day of the full moon (Credit: Chinesenewyear.net)

The two-week-long celebration will end on February 8, 2020 — the day of the full moon — with the Lantern Festival. In addition to hanging lanterns in homes and temples, many also pray for their family's well-being. The evening is marked with parades, the highlight of which is the dragon dance. The traditional dance involves using strategically-placed poles to manipulate a colorful dragon made of silk and paper. Since the animal is considered lucky, communities try to maximize their good fortune by building the longest possible dragon.

Every Chinese year is dedicated to one of twelve animals, which are believed to play a big role in shaping the character and fate of the individuals born in that year. One popular tale credits the fun custom to the Jade Emperor's decision to honor animals with their own year. To qualify for the privilege, they had to first race each other along a route that included a fast-flowing river. The twelve creatures who completed the competition — Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig — were each assigned a year in the order they reached the finish line.

The dragon dance is the highlight of the Lantern Festival Parade ( Credit: Patrick Kwan, NY /CC-BY-2.0/Creativecommons.org)

2020 is the Year of the Rat, the first animal in the 12-year zodiac rotation. The smart animal purportedly won the race by convincing the mighty Ox to give it a ride across the fast-flowing river, before sneakily jumping over its head to cross the finish line. The sign includes those born in 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008 and 2020. "Rat" people are optimistic, energetic, and extremely popular. Though kind, they lack good communication skills and hence often come across as impolite and rude.

Although a person's zodiac year is traditionally considered their unluckiest, Chinesenewyear.net predicts 2020 will be exceptionally good for "Rat" people hoping to advance in their careers. While they may suffer from some health issues, a quick trip to the doctor will be sufficient to solve the problem. Those still in school can be assured of a decent academic standing provided they continue working hard and getting enough rest.

People born under the sign of the Rat save money and are often perceived as stingy (Credit: Chinesefortunecalender.net)

Hawaii-based veteran astrologer Cathryn Moe predicts the Chinese zodiac's most auspicious sign will be good for everyone as well — particularly businesses and entrepreneurs. “People will develop their skills and move toward things they are aligned with, bringing hopeful ideas into practice,” Moe says. “Obstacles will not be a hindrance, and challenges will pull the best out of everyone.”

While commonly called “Chinese New Year,” the festival is also celebrated by the residents of Thailand and Singapore. Though Vietnam’s New Year celebration called “Tet,” follows similar traditions, the festivities last only seven days.

Xin Nian Kuai Le! (Happy New Year!)

Resources: China.org.cn, www.cits.net, wikipedia.org, telegraph.co.uk, chinesefortunecalender.net, Chinesenewyear.net

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194 Comments
  • cameo
    cameoMonday, May 11, 2020 at 6:51 pm
    I'm a Ox! Give a thumbs up if you are too!
    • katnip_everdeen
      katnip_everdeenWednesday, May 6, 2020 at 10:49 am
      Seems like a cool place to be during that time.
      • seventeenkpop
        seventeenkpopSunday, March 15, 2020 at 3:47 am
        I'm a pig lol🐖
        • tumbledancer_12
          tumbledancer_12Thursday, March 12, 2020 at 12:41 pm
          Anyone else's school obsessed with screaming "You're a rat!"?
          • katnip_everdeen
            katnip_everdeenWednesday, May 6, 2020 at 10:49 am
            Kind of odd but definitely yeah, especially in 7th
          • plytnt
            plytntWednesday, March 11, 2020 at 7:15 pm
            I'm a tiger!
            • tumbledancer_12
              tumbledancer_12Tuesday, March 10, 2020 at 7:06 am
              I'm a rat lol.
              • meowmee123
                meowmee123Sunday, March 8, 2020 at 10:19 am
                I'm a 🐯 because I was born in 2010. Go tigers!!!!
                • cloudstar_360
                  cloudstar_360Thursday, March 5, 2020 at 6:36 pm
                  Who here likes BTS? Comment down below if you do, please!!!
                  • cameo
                    cameoMonday, May 11, 2020 at 6:50 pm
                    I love BTS!
                    • seventeenkpop
                      seventeenkpopSunday, March 15, 2020 at 3:45 am
                      I love BTS
                    • cloudstar_360
                      cloudstar_360Thursday, March 5, 2020 at 6:34 pm
                      Go Roosters!!! Who here is a rooster? 🦃 🐔 🐓 Comment below if you are.
                      • cloudstar_360
                        cloudstar_360Thursday, March 5, 2020 at 6:16 pm
                        I was born in the year of the Rooster. 🐓