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February 1, 2011 > Welcoming the New Year

Welcoming the New Year

By Jessica Noel Waymire

One of many differences between eastern and western culture is the way in which we measure time. In western culture, the Gregorian calendar, based on the solar year, is used. Cultural groups in the east, such as those in Asia, follow a calendar based on the cycle of the moon. While those in the west have already marked the turn of their calendar to a new year, those in the east are just beginning to prepare for their celebrations.

The new lunar year, often referred to as the Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival, falls between late January and early February. TET is the Vietnamese version of New Year celebrated at the same time as Chinese New Year. In 2011 the new lunar year begins on February 3. In China, Vietnam and many Asian countries, this holiday holds more significance than Christmas, and is celebrated accordingly with family gatherings, the exchange of gifts, feasting, and parades.

Preparation for Chinese New Year begins with a thorough cleansing of the home. This readies the house for anticipated guests, as well as the hoped for good luck of the New Year. Any debts owed are repaid and past offenses are forgiven. New clothing and a fresh hair cut are also included in getting ready for the festivities. The home is decorated with flowers, and banners are hung with wishes for good luck and prosperity.

The eve of the New Year is spent with family. A large meal, prepared over a few days, is served to family members. Dishes that represent good fortune are served, such as fish or chicken. Depending upon the regional culinary preference, dumplings may be served, or rice cakes, or long noodles which are left uncut and are said to represent a long life. At midnight, firecrackers are lit and a lion dance may be performed. The lion is traditionally viewed as a protector and wards off negativity and unwanted spirits.

On New Year's Day, it is proper to pay respect to one's ancestors. In the home and in the temple, the scent of incense rises with prayers for good health and blessings. Family visits and community socializing are common. Offerings of red envelopes filled with money are given to younger relatives and children. These little envelopes are called lai-see in Cantonese or hong bao in Mandarin and represent wealth and prosperity for the coming year.

The festival lasts for almost three weeks and each day has a different focus. The second day is a day for couples to visit the wife's family. The seventh day is considered "everyman's birthday," when everyone ages another year, rather than celebrating individual birthdays. The celebration winds down about two weeks later with the Lantern Festival. The community gathers together, children included, and parades through the streets carrying illuminated lanterns. This takes place on the first full moon of the New Year.

The Lunar Calendar is divided into 12 parts, each represented by a different animal: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. The approaching New Year will bring us into the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. Vietmanese symbolism is similar; 2011 will be the Vietnamese Year of the Cat. Those born in the Chinese year of the rabbit are considered to be reserved, kind, lucky in finances, and well spoken, among other qualities. Cat qualities include a calm demeanor and consideration of others especially family and friends.

There are a number of celebrations occurring around the Bay Area in honor of the Lunar New Year. A Vietnamese New Year celebration, billed as "the largest Vietnamese New Year TET festival overseas" will take place in San Jose February 5th and 6th. For those who would like to celebrate and learn more about Chinese New Year, Fremont Main Library is hosting a Chinese New Year festival on Saturday, February 12 including stories, dance, music, marital arts demonstrations, and arts and crafts. Both events are a wonderful opportunity for the whole family to learn about and celebrate Lunar New Year.

Vietnamese Tet Festival $
Saturday & Sunday, Feb 5-6
11 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Santa Clara County Fairgrounds
344 Tully Road, San Jose
(408) 295-9210

Chinese New Year Celebration
Saturday, Feb 12
1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Fremont Main Library
2400 Stevenson Blvd., Fremont
(510) 745-1421

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