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Chinese New Year: Evolution of The Spring Festival and Ancient Traditions

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If you celebrate New Years Eve marked by the calendar used in America, you are probably just now getting back into your regular routine of eating, sleeping and exercise, or perhaps you have just begun a new routine. If you live in China or are Chinese American, you are just getting ready to throw routine away for the duration of the two week celebration for Chinese New Year.

The Chinese calendar is dependent on the lunar calendar. The darkest day of the month is always the first day of the month. New Years festivities also usually begin on the first day of the month, and last until the brightest day, which is the 15th, or the day of the full moon. Chinese New Year is also called The Spring Festival, and is symbolic of the ending of Winter. It is traditional to clean your house and get a haircut before Chinese New Year, so that bad Chi form the previous year does not follow you into the New Year.


Legend
“In ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal’s year would have some of that animal’s personality.” 2014 is the year of the horse.

Fireworks
In Chinese culture, it is believed that fire can ward against bad luck. Because of this, many New Years traditions involve the color red, which is symbolic of fire. People wear red and decorate by writing poems on red paper. Children are given red envelopes containing “lucky money”. There are large firework displays. These symbolize fire, as well as an ancient custom of lighting Bamboo stalks so that the flames would scare away evil spirits.

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Family Feast

One of the strongest aspects of the Chinese New Year celebrations is spending time with family. Similar to many holidays around the world, families reunite and gather in each other’s homes to eat, drink and be merry. In America, the Family aspect of this tradition evolved, and became whole neighborhoods celebrating together. This is because when the Chinese originally immigrated to America, many people came alone, or without their families. These people turned to their neighbors for a sense of community and formed neighborhood associations to keep traditions alive. In modern day America many Chinese neighborhood associations host New Year festivities.

Most families cook more than enough food for their family parties on the eve of the New Year. The left over food symbolizes the hope for abundance and wealth in the year to come. Another common tradition is Chinese Nian Gao, which is a special cake. After dinner is over, people gather and wait for the New Year, and usually do not sleep that night.

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Lanterns and Dragons
On the fifteenth night of the lunar month, which is the brightest night and the close of the New Year celebration, The Chinese have a lantern festival. Lanterns are hung in temples and people carry them to a nighttime parade. The lanterns are often exquisitely decorated, painted with scenes from histories, legends, zodiac signs, animals and birds. A well-known part of the lantern parade is the dragon dance. Silk paper and bamboo are used to make a dragon, often one hundred feet long. The dragon is held up over the arms and heads of young men who dance as they move the dragon through the parade.

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Culture
It is common for people in China to take weeks off from work to prepare for and celebrate the New Year. However the New Years celebrations are shortened in America, and the dragon dance always takes place on a weekend, regardless of the moon. Many Chinese American communities also incorporate elements of typical American culture parades such as Marching bands and floats.

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In Boston

This year, The Chinese New Year Parade will take place on Sunday, Feburary 9, 2014. It will start at 10am  and end at 5pm. The parade takes place on Chinatown Main Street. Here are some other celebrations taking place in the city throughtought the Chinese New Year.

FREE Admission to the Museum of Fine Arts
Feb 8-465 Huntington – special events including a Lion dance, martial arts, Korean bowling and guided tours of the Asian Galleries.

Boston Children’s Museum
February 9 from 11am to 4pm – $14 – cultural and performances celebrating the New Year.

Chinese New Year in Harvard Square
February 23 from 1-3pm. Starts in Winthrop Park with a lion dance followed by the dance,firecrackers, hanging red lantersn and parade through Harvard Square.