Welcome to the year of the rat

As the new decade rolls around, we enter the year of the rat. If you are amongst the rat-born, what does this mean? According to the Chinese zodiac your element is water, you are more yin than yang, the eleventh lunar month is your lucky lunar month, your lucky numbers are 2,3,6, and 8, your lucky flower is a lily, your lucky colours are gold, blue, and green, and your lucky season is winter.

 

However, there are unlucky elements as well. Beware the numbers 4,5, and 9, and watch out for yellow and brown, these are your unlucky colours.

 

In good literary company

 

Your are also amongst one of the most literary of annual animals, with the year of the rat having given birth to William Shakespeare, TS Eliot, and their obvious companion Richard Simmons, producer and presenter of the Sweatin' to the Oldies series of home aerobics videos.

 

How is the new year celebrated?

 

Over thousands of years, the Spring Festival is filled with traditions, many of which remain today.

 

Family reunion dinner

The New Year's eve is also called the reunion dinner. Its routes go back to the Northern and Southern dynasties 386 to 589. Because, in the bitter northern winter, people their often ate the meal seated round a hot pot set in the middle of the table, it was also called the "Wei Lu" (people eating around the stove). In the south, fish and soup are typical New Year's eve dishes.

 

Seating also has a strict precedence during this meal. Honored guests should be placed at the left or eastern side, and the host or most honored guest should sit facing the door. If guests are invited, the chief seat should be for the most honored guest. No one should sit down or eat before the chief guest or the eldest.

 

Don't take water from the well

During the Spring Festival, there is a taboo regarding taking water from wells. People who have a well should seal the well with a wooden cover before dusk, burn incense and offer cakes for worship. After three days the well can be opened again. 

 

Ancestor worship

Revering ancestors is a key part of Chinese New Year's eve. In many regions of China, when food has been prepared, parents burn incense and lead the family in honoring their ancestors. In some rural areas in northern China, people also burn paper money for their ancestors. Incense might be burned in front of the ancestors' portraits, and wine and food put down, while the family holds a grand ceremony to express respects to ancestors and pray for the future of the family. Following this, the family holds it New Year’s Eve dinner together.

 

Gifting Money to Children

Adults will often give children gifts of money in red envelopes. Other gifts for children include fruit such as oranges and litchi, which are placed on the children's pillows. These fruits are significant because their names sounds like "Ji Li" ("auspicious") in Chinese, so are a symbol for wishing children good luck.

 

Treading on sycees

A sycee was a type of gold or silver ingot used in China until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911. Their standard boat shape is still seen as symbolic of wealth today. People sometimes make a "treasure bowl" of these gold ingots made out of sesame stems with yellow paper. The sesame stems symbolise fortune rising like sesame blossoms on the stems. The, the whole family then tread the treasure bowl until it is crushed. Because "crush" in Chinese sounds like the word for year "sui", it symbolises the family being brought prosperity, the blessings, and hope in the New Year.

 

Pasting couplets on doors

Spring Festival couplets, two lines of poetry, are hung written in large characters on red paper (red symbolising luck and good fortune) and hung on doorways usually on the morning of New Year’s Eve. Some of the earliest couplets appear in documents unearthed at the Mogao Caves in Gansu, which were constructed between fourth and fourteenth centuries, and date back to the Tang Dynasty which ruled China from 618-907. The custom became especially popular during the later Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

 

Posting New Year Paintings

New Year paintings, as well as Spring Festival couplets, originated from the worship for "door gods". By the merit of carved plate printing, New Year paintings further expand its content from only the "door gods" to the god of wealth. Gradually, they developed more contents and themes in colored New Year paintings , such as, "Gods of Luckiness, Fortune and Long-live", " Blessing from Gods", "An abundant harvest of all crops", "Abundant domestic animals", "Spring blessing", in order to satisfy people's pray to happiness.

 

Pasting paper cut-outs on windows

The art of creating intricate designs from a single piece of paper first appeared in China in the 600s. These days the designs are often known as Chuang-hua or window art. During Chinese New Year, people paste these cut outs on windows. They come in a huge range of designs usually made from red paper depicting auspicious items.

 

Pasting up the character "Fu"

The character meaning fortune or blessing is often pasted on doors for good luck.

 

Home at midnight

Following the dinner, it is traditional to be home by midnight. Families stay up till midnight then set off firecrackers to welcome in the New Year.

 

Firecrackers

The origins of firecrackers are buried deep in myth and folk stories now. One of the most popular is that these were originally created to scare away an evil dragon that would come down to villages and steal children. These days they are seen as a noisy and fun way to usher in a year of good fortune and luck.