Chinese New Year rings in the year of the rat

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Photo by Aden J

Olivia Janek, Reporter

Giant gold and red dragons, firecrackers snapping on the ground, fireworks blooming in the sky, and the sound of clanging gongs and cymbals could be found on January 25, this year’s Chinese New Year. Unlike most of the Western world, which follows a solar calendar, China follows a lunar calendar, causing each holiday to change dates every year causing it to possibly be one of the most celebrated and well-known Chinese holidays.
Chinese New Year was first celebrated around the 1600s during the Shang Dynasty, due to an ancient legend which states every year, a monster would come down from the mountains and destroy villages, but the monster had a weakness that could drive it away. The monster was afraid of loud noises and bright lights. So every year, the people of the villages would light firecrackers and bang pans and pots to scare the monster back to the mountains. This legend became the basis of the traditions of fireworks and the loud music on Chinese New Year.
“As a child, I played with firecrackers, watched the Spring Festival Gala, visited family, ate with relatives, and I received lots of red packets,” said Jullian Li, the current Chinese class substitute.
At home, on Chinese New Year, people will often have their own celebration with their whole family in which they prepare spring rolls, crescent dumplings, longevity noodles, and fish, which all have their own meanings attached to them. Fish promotes an increase in prosperity, dumplings and spring rolls are said to bring wealth. Longevity noodles promise a long life full of happiness, in this year and the years to come. It’s considered tradition to eat a meal full of these lucky foods with family, and to spend time together, especially until midnight, when it is officially the new year. Relatives give gifts to the children, specifically in red envelopes or packets that contain money. Many people wear new clothes to this event, as well as haircuts, since it’s considered a way of having a new start by cutting hair at the beginning of the year.
“This year, I made Chinese dishes, watched the Gala, and gave out red packets,” Li said.
In preparation for Chinese New Year, families will clean their homes to welcome the New Year, and decorate the house in red decorations, as red is considered a lucky color in Chinese culture. Special markets set up around this time to sell the decorations and related items, such as clothing and fireworks. Even on New Years itself, these markets can be found everywhere including Austin.
On that note, Chinese New Year is not just celebrated in China. Though the biggest celebrations happen there, there’s celebrations in Chinatowns all across the United States and around the world. There’s even one that’s local by the MT Supermarket in Austin on North Lamar Blvd. They sell traditional Chinese clothing, New Year’s food, and have performances that include lion and dragon dances. It’s a nice way to experience Chinese culture, and the event happens in the afternoon, so it’s accessible to most people.
And no matter where it’s celebrated, whether China or Chinatowns, this holiday will be celebrated for centuries to come, as it has for centuries before.