Long long ago, one day, the Jade Emperor wanted to make a rule to help calculate the time for human beings. He decided to choose 12 animals to represent the Chinese zodiac, with each animal representing a year. But there are so many animals, how would he decide which got picked? A competition was planned, and the first 12 animals who crossed the finish line the morning of the competition would be in the Chinese zodiac rank.
The rat and the cat were good friends and neighbors. They knew they had to get up early, but the cat usually slept late so he asked the rat to knock on the door to wake him up. On the day of the competition, the rat woke up very early, but he forgot to wake up the cat.
While the rat was on his way to the competition, he met the ox. The ox had much longer legs and could run very fast, and the rat was exhausted after walking so far already. Suddenly, the rat had a brilliant idea to get even farther ahead. He said to the ox, “hey bro, I will sing a song if you let me walk with you.” The ox said, “Sounds good” but after a while, the ox didn’t hear anything, so he asked the rat “are you even singing?”
“I am singing, but maybe my voice is too low to hear. How about I stand on your shoulders and singing for you” the rat replied, and the ox agreed.
The ox ran the rest of the way, carrying the rat. As they approached the finish line, the rat jumped to the ground and rushed across the line—winning first place in the Chinese zodiac, with the ox in second place. However, by the time the cat woke up, he was too late. The zodiac ranks were already full and from that day forward cats and rats were no longer friends, but enemies.
2023 is the rabbit year, and people who were born in a rabbit year need to wear something in red (underwear, socks, sweater, etc.). Wearing red will chase away bad luck. Some people believe bad things usually happen to those who were born within the same zodiac animal as the new year.
The Chinese year starts on the 1st of January of the lunar calendar, and this year it is on the 22nd of January of the solar calendar. It is the biggest festival in China. It is often called the “Spring Festival” which means new lives start now, signifying everything starting to wake up and become energetic.
The Spring Festival usually lasts 15 days and people start to prepare for it several days before the festival begins. We need to clean up our homes and not let the old dust stays into the new year. Then, we buy a lot of food to fill up the refrigerator and prepare special food for the festival. Food varies from region to region, but my hometown is in north-western China, and in this area, people mostly have wheaten food and meat.
The day before New Year’s Day, we place a banner with “福” character and an antithetical couplet on the door (and Luban’s door too).
The night before New Year’s Day all families have dinner together and wait for the new year’s bell to ring. Dinner is made with the food that we prepared beforehand. In the north of China, people must have dumplings, so we usually make dumplings together—in whatever shape we want.
At the new year moment, people go out and light firecrackers and fireworks, and all of China is bright and loud. On New Year’s Eve, older people usually give red pockets with cash in them to the young generation, meaning they will protect kids’ lives and protect them from bad luck in the coming year.
From the first day of the new year to the 15th, people visit relatives and bring gifts and best wishes. The 15th day is a special day—it’s the ending of the spring festival and the beginning of the Lantern Festival. The lunar calendar is based on the moon’s shape, and on the 15th day of the lunar month, the moon full and at its roundest—it is a perfect day, meaning everything should go well and will be perfect.
Families will gather again and also have special food for this day. We often have rice balls with fillings. In the North of China, the filling is sweet, but in the South of China, the filling is salted.
After dinner people will go out and set up a log fire, jumping over it to symbolize jumping over all obstacles and overcoming all difficulties in the new year.
Now, the new year started, let’s do it with all best wishes!