By Jennifer Nordin, Staff Writer

The Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year) will be on Jan. 26 this year.  The lunar New Year usually falls in January or February, but the exact date varies from year to year because it is based on the cycles of the moon (thus lunar) as opposed to the linear structure of the Gregorian calendar. 

By Jennifer Nordin, Staff Writer

The Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year) will be on Jan. 26 this year.  The lunar New Year usually falls in January or February, but the exact date varies from year to year because it is based on the cycles of the moon (thus lunar) as opposed to the linear structure of the Gregorian calendar. 

Chinese New Year marks the beginning of the Spring Festival.  There are many traditional elements in the celebration.  Flowers are important in the Spring Festival; two important flowers commonly used are plum blossoms and water narcissus.  Hong-Bao, red envelopes of money, are given to children and young adults and often other presents are exchanged similar to the Christian celebration of Christmas.  Fruit is also used in the Spring Festival.  Tangerines are a sign of good luck and oranges are a sign of wealth since the Chinese words for “tangerine” and “luck” sound similar as do the words for “wealth” and “orange.”

The New Year also marks the change in the zodiac sign.  The Chinese zodiac is based on a twelve year cycle.  The animals of the zodiac are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. 

A widely known legend about the animals is that Buddha held a race to determine which animals would represent the twelve years of the zodiac.  Each animal’s position would be determined by the order in which they finished the race.  The Rat is the first zodiac sign because he rode on the Ox’s back through most of the race and jumped down at the end and won.  The Pig rested during the race and was the last of the twelve to cross the finish line.

Another tale of the creation of the zodiac is that Buddha invited all animals to his birthday celebration, but only twelve animals came, becoming the twelve animals of the zodiac.  In some versions of the myth, it is the Jade Emperor rather than Buddha.

The zodiac can be used as a polite way to determine another person’s age.  Rather than asking how old a person is, people can ask what sign they are.  For example, this is the year of the Ox; since the Chinese zodiac is a twelve year cycle, someone who was born in the year of the Ox would be 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 etc.

An entertaining use of the zodiac is to use it to describe the personality of a person born in a particular year.  In an example, a description of someone born in the year of the Ox on a Chinese astrology Web site states, “the Ox is steadfast, solid, a goal-oriented leader, detail-oriented, hard-working, stubborn, serious and introverted but can feel lonely and insecure. Takes comfort in friends and family and is a reliable, protective and strong companion.”

Whether or not you believe in zodiac predictions of the future or characterization based on which animal year a person is born in, it, along with other Chinese New Year traditions, can give interesting insight into the over 4,000 years of recorded Chinese history.

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