Good Luck in the Year of the Pig

Jenna Gerling

Several Eastern cultures to celebrate the Lunar New Year

Snake-like, jagged teeth, black whiskers protrude from its chin; it has the body of a bull, the head of a lion and a huge gaping mouth to eat people with.

According to ancient Chinese tradition, on Lunar New Year’s Eve, a vicious beast named Nian would eat people at random. Reacting to Nian’s weaknesses – loud noises and the color red – people set off fireworks and hung red paper on their doors to keep the monster at bay. On New Year’s Day, everyone said “Gong-xi” – congratulations – on surviving the night.

Year of the Pig

The Lunar New Year begins with the new moon on the first day of the New Year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. This time, it will be celebrated on Feb. 18, a night where bright lanterns of all shapes and colors will be displayed and families will usher in the good luck of the New Year.

This holiday is celebrated by Chinese, Japanese, Korean and several other Eastern cultures as a time to return home and celebrate with family.

The 15 Days of New Years

During the Chinese New Year, each day has a certain significance. The following are just a few of the traditions observed.

Day one:

The first day of the lunar month is to welcome the gods of the heavens and earth. Many people do not consume meat this day to ensure longevity and happiness. This is also the time for families to pay a visit to the oldest member of their extended family.

Day two:

On the second day, the Chinese pray to their ancestors and all the gods. This is the day for married daughters to visit their birth parents. It is said that they are forbidden to return home on New Year’s Day, or they will bring poverty to the family.

Day four:

This is the day that gods come down to Earth, and every family prepares offerings to greet them.

Day five:

The fifth day, people stay home to welcome and celebrate the birthday of the God of Wealth. In Taiwan, some businessmen will reopen this day; factories, shops and companies set off loud firecrackers to celebrate. But no one visits families and friends on this day because it will bring both parties bad luck.

Day 14:

This day should be spent preparing for the celebration of the Lantern Festival on the 15th day by cleaning the house in its entirety. If you do not clean away the old year, you waste a whole new year of good luck.

Day 15:

This is the day where people carry lanterns in a parade, where sweet sticky rice ball desserts are eaten. After this day, the celebrations are over and life returns to normal.

Source: Chinese New Year Web site.

Kent State alumna Ai Lin said she celebrates a tradition called “shou sui” by staying up until midnight with her family. During shou sui, families welcome in the New year together, she said.

Doctoral candidate Yu-Hui Chou said the Lunar New Year is designed for people to rid themselves of the old and bring in the new with good luck, to worship ancestors, to be with family and of course, to eat delicious foods.

The traditional main course at family dinner tables on New Year’s Eve is a whole fish, a whole chicken and a dish of uncut, water cooked spinach. The chicken is kept whole until at the table, because it stands for the whole family eating together every year.

“Every dish, in my family New Year’s Eve dinner, have their symbolic meanings,” Chou said. “For example, a dish of spinach to eat: The long, no cut spinach means you have a long life every year. And a whole fish means you will have a lot of money in your saving account every year.”

Sticky rice balls called “tang yuan” are also eaten on the 15th day of the new year. These small, sweet, chewy balls, typically served in a sweet soup, represent unity and wholeness because of their round shape, like the full moon on the New Year.

Lin said she used to go to the lantern shows and eat this dessert but, “now that I am in the States, the only thing I still can do is to make my own sticky rice ball dessert.”

Old and new traditions

Chou said the times with her family were memorable on the New Year’s holiday.

“Our family also liked to take the city bus to visit Kaohsiung city center – (to) watch (the) harbor, to go window shopping, but buy nothing,” Chou said. “The few things we (would) buy were hot dogs, ice cream and milk candy. My older sisters and brother, we five children (enjoyed sharing) these snacks together because we (could) afford only limited money to buy them.”

Even though the New Year is still a big part of her culture, Lin said the traditions for the New Year have changed for her and her family. She said people still celebrate the New Year, but just in a different way.

“We always have 12 dishes on the dinner table on the New Year’s Eve, even though some families have fewer people,” Lin said. “In today’s society, some families do not even eat at home anymore; they would rather go to a restaurant than cook 12 dishes at home.

“Another example is that we used to wear red color clothes during Chinese New Years due to the fact that traditionally, red represents fortune,” she continued. “However, nowadays, fewer people would wear bright red clothes. Some younger people even wear white or black during Chinese New Year, which was not common in earlier days because these colors are usually considered mourning color in Chinese culture.”

The majority of Lunar New Year traditions have remained relatively unchanged, however.

Each of the 15 days before the New Year holds some sort of significance or superstition; on New Year’s Day, using any sort of cleaning equipment is not allowed. If someone cleans, all good fortune will be swept away from a home.

Chou said these superstitions aren’t necessarily believed by everyone: She only believes in one.

“Usually if any dishes are broken on accident, people say ‘Congratulations!’ or, ‘Pieces and pieces is going to peace,'” Chou said. “This saying means every year is a peace year, which I also say in this manner.”

Lin said she believes in the superstition that falls on the second day, when married daughters return home to their parents. If daughters come on any other day, they will bring misfortune on their parents.

“My mom and I were just talking about if I plan to visit them during the New Year. I only can visit them on the second day of New Year,” Lin said. “If I arrived earlier than that day, I would have to stay in a hotel until that day comes.”

But breaking dishes and wearing a certain color are not the extent of parallel meanings. For instance, when families and friends visit houses they usually bring handfuls of oranges with them because the Chinese word for oranges, “ju,” sounds like the word “good luck.” Other foods like dumplings are made because they resemble Chinese gold lumps.

Home for the holidays?

Unlike Lin, Chou said she will not be going home for the holiday again this year because she is busy writing her proposal for her dissertation.

“Almost every Taiwanese student will experience (homesickness) during Lunar New Year,” Chou said. “There are four years I did not go with my family during this family reunion days. I will phone call my family and friends in Taiwan to say Happy Pig Year to them.

“To me, New Year (means) new future! But, in (this) New Year, I am getting aged . and my situation, I don’t have too much time because pressure for my study. I am not a kind of party animal anyway.”

Contact features correspondent Jenna Gerling at [email protected].