The Year of the Rat

By Tucker Dimberg

   On Jan. 25, the most important holiday in Chinese culture began. Chinese New Year lasts 15 days and marks the symbolic time to move on. Based on the Chinese Lunar Calendar, the holiday originated as a way to pray to deities and ancestors for a good harvest, but has shifted into a way to celebrate the new lunar calendar year with a long festival and family reunions. 

   2020 represents the Year of the Rat, and while most people know of Chinese Zodiac signs, not many know of their meaning or origin. Legend has it that the Jade Emperor called all the animals together for a race to determine the twelve animals represented in the calendar. The Great Race was a race to cross a wide river and subsequently a finish line. Each animal utilized different aspects of character to finish the race, and that determines what traits those born in that year exhibit. The order of the finishers is the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and finally Pig. Each animal showed a certain trait, such as the Rat’s cleverness, the Dragon’s empathy, and the Monkey’s teamwork.

   In addition to the Zodiacs, there are many cultural traditions surrounding the holiday. Visiting friends and relatives is a common way to celebrate and express good wishes. Gifts and a greeting are a popular way to drop in on a relative. The red envelope, or hongbao, is traditionally give to children and young adults from older relatives. The red color on the envelope is prominent throughout all celebrations. It represents good fortune and prosperity for the year to come. Another tradition is cleaning the house. The ground, walls, and every corner need to be cleaned. This is because the Chinese word for dust is similar to the Chinese word for old. Therefore, the cleaning drives to old away from the house and gets it ready for a new start.

   Traditional foods are a staple of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Whole fish are a common symbolic dish that is eaten during celebrations. The fish represents abundance and surplus as well as togetherness. The head, tail, and bones are all supposed to be intact to ensure that the new year is prosperous from beginning to end. Another common traditional food are dumplings. They are meant to symbolize money. On some occasions, coins are placed in the middle of one dumpling, and whoever bites into this dumpling will have an especially good year.

   Chinese New Year is a holiday chock full of traditions and festivities, and is held in high regard in Chinese citizen’s hearts, and it will continue to be an important holiday for years to come. When passing a Chinese person this new year, make sure to wish them a Gong xi fa cai’.


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