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February 13, 2008 > Rat rules Chinese New Year

Rat rules Chinese New Year

By Julie Grabowski

Chinese New Year is the most important and grand of Chinese festivals, honoring the beginning of new life, hope for the future, and the blessings of family and friends. Also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, the celebration spans 15 days with each day carrying its own significant tradition, such as prayer, gift giving, visiting temples and family members, and eating specific foods. Festivities culminate in the Lantern Festival on the 15th day when children parade glowing lanterns under a full moon and enjoy folk, and dragon dances.

Chinese New Year is determined by the movements of a lunar calendar, which can place the day anywhere between late January and mid-February. The Chinese calendar dates back to the reign of Emperor Huang Ti in 2600 BC and is composed of a 12-year cycle in which each year bears the name of an animal. A traditional story tells of how Lord Buddha called all the animals to him before he was to leave the earth, but only 12 came to wish him farewell. To show his appreciation for their presence Lord Buddha named a year after each animal in order of their arrival beginning with the rat. The animals that followed were an ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. A complete calendar cycle is composed of 5 cycles of 12 years each, equaling 60 years in length. A new 12-year cycle begins with the new moon February 7 and welcomes the year of the rat.

According to popular myth the ruling animal of the year in which one is born greatly influences the behavior and traits of that individual. Those born in 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, and 1996 are members of the rat clan, an animal associated with wealth and luxurious living, enterprise and hard work. The rat also possesses charm, passion, aggression and discipline. Spiritual instruction given to rats by Chinese sages is to practice self-control and be considerate in interactions with their fellow man.

Food carries a great deal of importance to the New Year and is plentiful throughout the celebration. Traditional dishes carry old Chinese beliefs and symbolize good wishes for those gathered. A whole fish represents abundance and togetherness, a chicken completely intact symbolizes prosperity, and noodles remain uncut as a representation of long life. The Chinese New Year Cake is a sticky steamed cake made with glutinous rice flour and dried fruit. This cake is an offering to the Kitchen God who is a deity sent to every house to take care of family affairs. The Kitchen God reports to Heaven annually on the family's behavior in the past year, and if he intends an unfavorable report, the sticky cake ensures that this mouth will remain shut.

Activities that take place during Chinese New Year are all about renewal and relegating the past to the past. Houses are thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom, expelling the dust of the past year; debts are paid off and new clothes purchased. Doors and windows get a fresh coat of red paint, as red is believed to be a lucky color that repels evil. Paper lanterns are hung and decorations of red and gold depict the reigning year animal. Chinese red envelopes containing lucky coins, money or a small gift are given during the New Year to bring good luck, happiness and prosperity to both recipient and giver. All these actions are to embrace a new life and new hopes.

The dragon is a dominant image in Chinese culture, revered for its goodness, vigilance, fertility, poise, and supernatural powers. The Chinese believe they are descendants of this incredible creature and so honor him in their customs and traditions. The dragon dance is a staple of celebrations and serves as a demonstration of gratitude for the dragon. The animal is constructed of silk, paper, and bamboo and carried aloft on poles, coming alive to the traditional music of drums, cymbals, and gongs. This colorful, exciting dance symbolizes the wish for good luck and success in the New Year. It is believed that the longer the dragon, the more luck will be brought to society.

China Chili Restaurant in Fremont is celebrating the New Year Saturday, February 23 with a special dinner event. At 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. diners can indulge in popular menu items such as honey pecan prawns, and salt and pepper tiger prawns and scallops, while the dining room comes to life with Kung Fu action and the traditional Lion Dance to scare away the devil. There is no extra charge for the entertainment and standard menu pricing applies. For reservations call (510) 791-1688.

For those who would like to pair celebration with supporting a worthy cause, join FUN Sunset Rotary and Rotary Club of Fremont at the Mayflower Seafood Restaurant in Union City for the 3rd Annual Chinese New Year Celebration Banquet. Proceeds from the event will benefit Stop Pediatric Aids Now (SPAN), and Friends of Children with Special Needs (FCSN). SPAN is dedicated to stopping the transfer of Aids from mother to child by treating infected mothers with medication before giving birth that cuts the transmission rate from the current 33% down to 1%. This technique has been used with success in the states and Western Europe and is currently being used in the Yunnan Province in China, the area that will benefit from the funds raised. FCSN is a non-profit organization in Fremont serving the needs of children with physical and mental disabilities. Family involvement and integration are key, as well as an array of classes to promote independence and help children find their talents.

The banquet begins at 6 p.m. Sunday, February 17, and will share the Chinese culture and New Year history over a ten-course traditional meal. There will be raffle prizes and drawings as well as traditional music and the Lion Dance. The cost is $60 per person, or $550 for a table of ten. Reservations are required and can be made by contacting Elaine Wong-Bigel at (510) 381-9989 or Art Kimber at (510) 651-9832.

Chinese New Year is a rich tapestry of ancient beliefs and heartfelt celebration, looking to the promise of new life, and wishing all people peace, prosperity and happiness. Here's to the rat!



Chinese New Year Celebration
Saturday, February 16
1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Fremont Main Library
2400 Stevenson Blvd., Fremont
(510) 745-1400


3rd Annual Chinese New Year Celebration Banquet
Sunday, February 17
6 p.m.
Mayflower Seafood Restaurant
34348 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City
(510) 381-9989 or (510) 651-9832.


Chinese New Year Celebration
Saturday, February 23
5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
China Chili Restaurant
39116 State Street, Fremont
(510) 791-1688

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