The Year of the Pig
Those of us who are Chinese Americans are lucky to have a second chance at our New Year’s resolutions because for us, there are actually two New Year Day’s! February 5th was the first day of the first month of 2019 according to the lunar calendar—the official calendar of most countries in Asia.
Although I cannot recite the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac calendar, most Chinese can and therefore can tell how old someone is just by asking an inoffensive question, such as what zodiac animal the person belongs to. For instance, since this year is the Year of the Pig, if a person’s sign is a Pig, he/she must be 1, 12, 24, 36, or 48 years-old; if the person is a Dog (which was last year’s zodiac sign), then he/she must be 2, 13, 25, 37, 49 years-old. The difference in appearance are so distinct for those stages in life, that the answer should be a no-miss, provided one knows the correct order of the zodiac animals. If you care to know, they are, in correct order: Mouse, Cow, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Chicken, Dog and Pig. For those who are concerned, the Year of the Pig (this year) is usually a good and prosperous year.
Similar to Thanksgiving celebrations, during the new year, people make it a point to get together with the family for a New Year’s Eve dinner and breakfast on New Year’s Day. A record number of Chinese people travel around this time of the year. It is estimated that one quarter of China's 1.2 billion people are on the road to celebrate new year with family every year. Like any large family gatherings, young people have to answer tough, in-your-face questions. Some enterprising Chinese people even rent themselves out for New Year gatherings to take care of relatives with those pesky relationship questions!
The preparation for the celebration usually starts the week before the New Year when relatives get together to make cakes, dumplings, and good fortune goodies. A big cleansing is done on the 28th day of the Old Year because during the New Year, no one should engage in activities which “decrease" and do not “increase". Examples of “decreasing” activities which are not to be done after the Old Year is finished and the New Year begins are the washing of hair and sweeping of dirt.
On New Year’s Eve, the dinner must include fish (which signifies surplus), scallions (for intelligence), celery (for diligence), and something sweet. In the north, people often eat dumplings because they look like nuggets of gold.
On New Year's Day, children put on new clothes and new shoes (which have been tempting them for days in their closet). The first order of the day is to present the first cup of tea to their parents who are formally seated in the ceremonial hall. Children also greet adults with “Gung hay fat choy" or “Gung si fa chai" (happiness and a prosperous year to you) with the hope of getting red envelopes, also called Lucky Money, stuffed with money. Married adults give these red envelopes to children or unmarried young adults.
Fireworks are also popular because they drive out evil spirits. The celebration does not end until the fifteenth day of the New Year, or February 19th this year. Nowadays, Chinese New Year is celebrated in Asia and elsewhere in the world. Cities like New York and San Francisco and other metro cities in Europe and South America, host events in celebration. They include food, performances, and even dragon and lion dances, as well as, fireworks. And most Chinese residents, wherever they live, still give out red envelopes and greet each other with “Gung hay fat choy" or “Gung si fa chai”.
Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy New Year!