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Lunar New Year: The Ox

Around the world and throughout history, people have celebrated the new year. New years are not always celebrated at the same time of year. The World Calendar is an adapted version of the Gregorian calendar and is acknowledged internationally. Historically, some regions have celebrated the new year based on their religious calendars. For example, Russia would observe the new year on the day of the Epiphany, which happens several days after the Orthodox Christmas Day. In many other places, a lunisolar or lunar calendar is used which measures the phases of the moon to determine the season.  The name Lunar New Year is celebrated by people in China and locations in Asia’s eastern regions. Lunar New Year is also known as the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival. Which name is used is based on cultural traditions and location. The upcoming Lunar New Year will take place on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. 

Chinese New Year is one of China’s most important holidays and is known as Spring Festival there. Traditionally, the Spring Festival has been used to honor ancestors and deities. Some typical traditions include an annual New Year’s Eve family reunion dinner; spring cleaning to sweep away ill-fortune and welcome good luck for the new year; paper decorations at doors and windows with symbols of good fortune, happiness, wealth and longevity. Lighting firecrackers and giving money in red envelopes are examples of other activities. Sharing food is also another important part of the Spring Festival. However, the customs and traditions for the Festival vary widely across regions. 

The public holiday can be celebrated for up to 15 days, during which numerous festivities take place. The tradition of the first day is to honor one’s elders and families. On this day, the red envelopes with cash inside, known as hongbao in Mandarin, are exchanged among married people while the younger family members typically receive a good luck blessing inside for the new year. Day two has traditionally been a day for married daughters to visit their birth families, other relatives and close friends. The third day is known as Chikou (“red mouth”) or Chikou’s Day, with Chikou translated as “red dog”— an epithet of the “God of Blazing Wrath.” On this day, rural villagers burn paper offerings over trash fires. It is unlucky to visit or have guests on this day. 

On the fourth day, things go back to normal for communities who celebrate all 15 days — business as usual returns. The fifth day is known as the God of Wealth’s birthday. In China, firecrackers are set off to gain Guan Yu’s attention and favor in the new year. On the sixth day, also known as Horse’s Day, the Ghost of Poverty is driven out. The garbage accumulated during the festival thus far is taken out to send away precious poverty and hardship. The seventh day, Renri is known as the common people’s birthday on which everyone grows another year older. Buddhists will not eat meat on this day. On the eighth day, another family dinner is held. 

On day nine, prayers are said to the Jade Emperor of Heaven in the Daoist Pantheon. This day is especially important for the Hokkein people. The following day, the 10th day of Chinese New Year is considered the Jade Emperor’s birthday, and a party is thrown. And on the 15th day, the Lantern Festival, or Yuanxiao Festival, is celebrated. Lots of delicious food is served on this day too. As the name suggests, the Lantern Festival is a traditional event that features colorful paper lanterns set alight. On this day, children will try to solve the riddles inscribed upon the lanterns. In olden times, young people would seek romantic partners on this day accompanied by a matchmaker chaperone. The holiday’s origins lay in showing respect to the Buddha. This year, the Lantern Festival takes place on Feb. 26. 

Each year, the Chinese calendar is represented by one of 12 animals, making a 12-year cycle based on the Earthly Branches. However, the Earthly Branches have no direct translations for the animals that appear on it, and they are now used in conjunction with the current-use Heavenly Stems. The animal names accepted to represent the years in English are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig. The cycle starts with the Rat and ends with the Pig as depicted in the preceding list. The zodiac animals have individual characteristics that include their associated Earthly Branch, yin-yang force, Trine and nature element. These meanings are even extended out to what kind of characteristics a person born during that year will have, notably how people will perceive you and how you portray yourself. For example, dragon years have the lóng Branch, Yang, First Shrine, and Earth element. People born during this year are said to be charismatic, intelligent, confident, powerful, gifted and very lucky. Lunar New Year 2021 is the year of the Ox. The Ox’s characteristics are niú, Yin, Second Trine, and Earth. If you were born between Feb. 7, 1997 and Jan. 27, 1998, then you are an Ox! Oxes are said to be honest, gentle, hard-working, kind, think logically and make great leaders. 

Not all central and eastern Asian cultures celebrate the Lunar New Year, though, so, it is important not to assume that your friends from Japan, Korea or other parts of Asia participate in this meaningful celebration, although they might. If you are unsure, the best thing to do is ask before assuming. Everyone has their own beliefs and traditions, even if they don’t have any at all. When you ask, you open up a dialogue to learn more about other peoples and cultures but, more importantly, about your friends. An excellent way to further your understanding is to do your own research and participate in cultural events run by people who are a given ethnicity themselves or by an expert in collaboration with a cultural group. One such event will be taking place on Feb. 13, 2021, at 7 p.m. Central Standard Time, hosted by many clubs and Lawrence International. Join the event by following the QR code below. To learn more, check out this edition’s News Section or contact internationalhouse@lawrence.edu or diversitycenter@lawrence.edu with questions. 

Next year, the Lunar New Year will take place on Feb. 1, 2022, and it will be the year of the Tiger. ‮新年快乐‬! Happy Lunar New Year!