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Chinese New Year

4703 years - 29 Jan 06

There are three ways to name a Chinese new year:

1. By animal (pig, rabbit, monkey, etc.). There are twelve animals in all. So every twelve years, the cycle repeats itself. 2006 will be the Year of the Dog.

2. By its formal name. This year it's "bingxu".

3. By the year. Nope, not 2006. This year will be 4703 by the Chinese calender.

On January 29, 2006, the Chinese celebrate the coming of the new year. But this is only the day they start celebrating. The Chinese New Year starts with the new moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The 15th day of the new year is celebrated with the Lantern Festival, a night-time event with lanterns on display and in the hands of children on parade.

The new year is a family occasion, a time of reunion. It's a time to honor the past and its relationship to the present, to recognize the heavenly and the earthly, and to pay respect to gods of the household and family ancestors.

To connect the past with the present, there is the sacrifice to the ancestors, the most vital of all the rituals. The presence of the ancestors is acknowledged on New Year's Eve with a communal dinner called "surrounding the stove" or weilu. Probably more food is consumed throughout this time than any other time of the year. Vast amounts of traditional food is prepared for family and friends.

Plants and flowers are also an important aspect of the new year. Every traditional Chinese household should have live blooming plants to symbolize rebirth and new growth. In some settings, newly-blooming plum blossoms are arranged with bamboo and pine sprigs. The plum blossom signifies reliability and perseverance, the bamboo is known for its compatibility and utility, and the evergreen pine for its longevity and steadiness.

As you can tell, decoration is an important aspect of the tradition. Prior to New Year's Day, Chinese families decorate their living rooms with vases of pretty blossoms, platters of oranges and tangerines and a candy tray with eight varieties of dried sweet fruit. On walls and doors are poetic couplets, happy wishes written on red paper, with positive messages akin to those of fortune cookies.

So if you have the chance to witness these festivities with your own eyes, take the chance. In many cities throughout the world, in many Chinatowns and, of course, in China, celebrations will take place with parades and festivals. A dazzling array of sights and sounds, it's a holiday as colorful as any you'll witness.

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