Chinese New Year — Spring Festival

The Chinese New Year is the most important social, cultural and economic holiday in China. The date of the holiday is determined by the lunar-solar Chinese calendar. This year, the New Year will be celebrated on February 10, 2013. Although the Gregorian calendar along with the Jesuit missionaries arrived in China in 1582, it wasn’t until 1912 that the general population began using it. However, Mao Zedong forbade the celebration of the traditional Chinese New year and celebrated the West’s New Year on January 1. Chinese leaders became more accepting of the holiday towards the end of the 20th century and, in 1996, instituted a weeklong vacation to allow people time to celebrate. Each New Year is marked by the characteristics of one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac; 2013 is the Year of the Snake. In Chinese culture, the Snake is not seen as evil (as it is symbolized in Western/Christian culture). Rather, those born in the Year of the Snake are believed to be deep thinkers, wise and skilled communicators. They are also known to be charming, introverted and generous. Famous people born in the Year of the Snake include Oprah Winfrey, Bob Dylan, Audrey Hepburn, Virginia Wolf and Brad Pitt. The holiday, now known in China as the Spring Festival, is a time for families to get together and celebrate the New Year. Traditionally, food is central to the celebration families will host dinners that include food items such as Mandarin oranges, specialty meats such as duck and Chinese sausage, and dishes of pork, chicken and fish. Mandarin oranges are seen as a sign of luck and wealth and the word for fish is a homophone for surplus. In preparation for the New Year, homes get a thorough cleaning to clear them of any “huiqui,” or unfavorable breaths, which may have accumulated during the old year. Messages of good luck are also posted on homes and businesses. It is also customary to see red ornaments and decorations as well as use red clothing and accessories to welcome the New Year. The color red is a symbol of life, wealth and energy. Another tradition is the giving of red envelopes with money which are given to children. Chinese New Year is celebrated all over the globe in communities with large Chinese populations. In the United States, Chinese New Year is not a federal public holiday but is celebrated in many cities around the country. The U.S. Census Bureau identifies Asians of Chinese origin as the largest Asian group in the United States. The arrival of Chinese immigrants to the Americas can be traced as far back as the 1600s with a period of large-scale Chinese immigration to the U.S, in the 1860s. San Francisco claims that its Chinese New Year parade is the biggest celebration of its kind outside of Asia. In other U.S. communities, Chinese New Year may be marked by parades, Chinatown fun runs or walks and fireworks displays. Look for events and activities in your local community to celebrate this joyous occasion and to learn more about Chinese culture. You may also visit to learn more about the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco.

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