The Chinese New Year, Explained

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I'm a Pig. Well, that's what my parents told me. You see, because I was born in the Chinese Zodiac's twelfth year -- the Year of the Pig -- I'm classified as a Pig. In fact, I automatically inherit certain qualities which are attributed to all Pigs: honesty, tolerance and a peaceful, patient happiness. And while Pigs are known to be intelligent and wise, we also can be shy and a bit gullible.

The Chinese Zodiac is just one of the many colorful traditions tied to the Chinese New Year. Having been raised in a Chinese family, I've gotten a firsthand understanding of the world's biggest celebration. Here's the inside scoop:

TIMING:

Chinese New Year isn't a day; it's a 15-day marathon of family gatherings, rituals and celebrations. It takes place in the middle of winter, usually around late January through mid-February. The timing is tied to the lunar cycle. Why didn't the Chinese align with the first-of-January timing used in the Western calendar? Simple: The Chinese were first. Their timing existed about 2,500 years before January 1st was established in the West. Interestingly, several key elements of the Chinese calendar can be seen in the Hebrew calendar.

TRADITIONS:

For thousands of years, the Chinese have perfected the art of "ringing in the new:"

  • Clean the house before the new year. Every closet, every window, every speck of dust. This sweeps away bad luck.
  • At midnight, open the windows and doors, allowing last year's spirits to leave.
  • Decorate in red; this frightens legendary beasts.
  • Also decorate in gold; this symbolizes good fortune.
  • Eat long noodles -- these represent longevity.