Today, Friday, Feb. 12, marks the first day of the Lunar New Year (also known as Chinese New Year) — one of the world's largest annual celebrations.
The Chinese zodiac calendar is represented by 12 different animals, and this year we are entering the Year of the Ox, and leaving behind the Year of the Rat.
Traditionally, the holiday marks the largest migration in the world, with more than 3.6 billion trips made in China as people return to their families for the long holiday. This year the pandemic has forced a change to the celebrations and many of the traditional activities have been moved online. The Chinese government has asked its citizens not to travel home for the holiday.
What is Lunar New Year?
Lunar New Year is a 15-day celebration, also known as Spring Festival, and this year celebrations culminate with the Lantern Festival on Feb. 26, 2021.
The celebration has been going on for more than 1,000 years and has many associated legends and customs. It is a time to honor deities and ancestors through prayer, offerings and other acts of devotion.
Traditionally, Lunar New Year is one of the world's largest displays of fireworks and traditional lion and dragon dances, lantern displays and performances fill the streets. It is considered good fortune to eat dumplings for every meal (although most people eat them on New Year's Eve), long uncut noodles that represent longevity and whole fish or bird for luck and prosperity.
The Chinese zodiac calendar is a repeating 12-year cycle of animal signs based on the lunar calendar. The 12 animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Your birth year determines what zodiac sign you are.
According to myth, the Jade Emperor decided the order of the zodiac animals based on the order in which they arrived to his party. Those born in each zodiac sign are said to have traits determined by their zodiac animal, be best suited to particular times of the day and fall into either yin or yang.
The calendar is an integral part of everyday life, used to determine fortunes for the year, marriage compatibility, career paths, best times to have a baby, and much more.
Oddly, when you are in a year corresponding with your zodiac sign, it is considered unlucky and seen as a hurdle to jump over. Traditionally, people wore red underwear to ward off evil spirits.
Year of the Ox
The ox is a valued animal in Chinese culture due to its role in agriculture. It is associated with being hardworking and honest.
Those born in the Year of the Ox are said to be honest, earnest, hardworking and kind. They are said to rarely lose their temper, and be balanced, fair leaders.
The ox is a "yang" and also a water sign, with its closest Western correspondent sign being Capricorn. Those born in 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009 and 2021 are born in the Year of the Ox. To find your Chinese zodiac, click here.
Hong Kong-based feng shui master Thierry Chow told CNN being in the Year of the Ox meant the world would be less static than last year and get moving in the second half of the year.
Some surprising facts about Lunar New Year
- According to mythology, a monster called Nian used to come out every New Year's Eve and eat crops and terrorize villagers, until one day a boy scared him away with firecrackers. Now, firecrackers are a fundamental part of the celebration, along with the color red that is said to scare away monster and evil spirits.
- On the Lunar New Year, a red envelope filled with money is traditionally given to children for prosperity and good luck. It is customary that both the envelopes and the money inside are brand new.
- On New Year's Eve, families burn fake paper money and printed gold bars to honor deceased loved ones, similar to the Korean Chuseok holiday and Mexican Day of the Dead — it is believed the offerings bring fortune and good luck to their ancestors in the afterlife.
- On New Year's Eve, at midnight, the doors and windows are opened to let the old year go out, and in the morning no showering, sweeping or throwing out garbage are allowed. It is also taboo to have your hair cut, to use scissors, knives and other sharp things, to argue, swear or say unlucky words, or break things.
- Borrowing and lending money is avoided on New Year's Day as it is said to set a pattern for the year. People who owe money try to settle debts before the New Year.
**Sources: www.chinesenewyear.net, www.thechinesezodiac.org, Wikipedia