There are 12 animal signs all together and we call this Chinese Zodiac Sign which is almost similar to the western horoscope sign. The Chinese Zodiac are based on the year that you were born rather than the day of your birth. The Zodiac Sign consists of 12 animals signs and they are arranged accordingly as to which animal comes first after another. There are 12 years in each cycle represented by 12 animal signs from rat to pig as shown here : Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Lamb, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.
According to Chinese legend, the 12 animals argued as to who would be the first animal in the 12-year cycle. The god decided to hold a contest in which the animals must cross a river. The first animal to cross the river would be the first on the chart followed by the other animals according to their finish. The rat was the smallest of the animals and was expected by the other animals to finish last. Quickly the 12 animals jumped into the river but unknown to the ox, the rat had jumped on his back. As the ox was about to jump on the riverbank to claim first place, the rat jumped off his back and won the race. The pig that was very lazy ended up last. As expected, their peers often tease most children who were born in the year of the pig.
From as early as 2 weeks before 3rd of February, a lot of food stuffs must be kept in the fridge as well as replenishing other food item to ensure they are fill up to the maximum level, shopping for new clothes, exchanging new $$ notes from bank, inserting money in hundreds of angpow (red packet), houses are cleaned and decorated to prepare for this big day because this is the most important annual festival for the Chinese community.
The eve of CNY is the happiest, joyful and forgiving night as all family members from far and near will return home for the reunion dinner, to rekindle family ties and enjoy the sumptuously prepared meals. Dinner is prepared early on the eve with many lavish dishes with symbolic meanings. Dishes such as big fish means a surplus or abundance while shrimp represents happiness and laughter, oyster means good business and clam signifies new horizons.Of course, there are many other varieties of food on the eve.
After the dinner, all family members will stay up late and none will sleep early because it is believed to bring longevity to their parents. So, it is normal to see family members playing cards, mahjong and engage in several other activities just to let the hour pass by more easily. By 12 midnight the New Year is ushered with the sound of firecrackers and can be heard everywhere. It is very loud and sometimes people who are not familiar with it, will mistaken it as sound of explosion :-) This is the time for them to do their prayer at home and some will go to Temple to pray and giving out donations in the form of money. The most popular Temple in Penang where most will visit is the "Kuan Yin Temple". So, at that hour if you are on the road, the CNY mood can be felt as people who are known and unknown to you will wish you Happy New Year. For some drivers on the road, pressing on the car honk long and loud is another way to wish you the same.
On the first day is the day where all family members will have to visit relatives one after another to show their respect to the older generation before the younger ones. It is a common practise for married couples to give out angpow to children and to those who are unmarried. Giving out angpow signifies that the recipients will enjoy wealth and fruitful life. But, married couples must also give angpow to their parents. I normally will give out angpow to pregnant mother because I believe there is already life inside the womb but this is not a common practise.
Chinese has many beliefs and one of the most important on the first day of CNY is "strictly no broom to sweep the floor" because it is believe that this day brings good luck and good fortune into the house. It can be considered sweeping all the good luck away if anyone sweep the floor on this day.
Apart from this belief, lion dance is another tradition where Chinese believes it brings good fortune while at the same time ward off the evil. There is a fixed price to pay for that but it must be inserted in the angpow.
Red and Gold are usually the favourite colour on Chinese New Year. Red symbolizes happiness while Gold symbolizes wealth. On the first day of Chinese New Year the clothing is preferred to be in red. It is believe to bring bright future.However, some believe it is sufficient to put up a Chinese Character with the word "Prosper" in Chinese language stick it on the door of the main entrance. This method also bring the same meaninng. My house is decorated with the big Chinese word on the main door :-) Nice and neat ! Definitely brings us more prosperity :-)
The days will go on with many other activities and traditions to follow but the last day of Chinese New Year which is the Chap Goh Meh is the tradition for many unmarried individuals to throw mandarin oranges into the sea. It is believe that those who follow this tradition will find their dream partner and get settle down and be blessed with many children :-)
There are many other traditions which I am not able to cover everything here but these are all the most popular ones among all Chinese. Of course there are celebrations such as "God of Heaven" on the 8th day for the Hokkien community and several other celebrations for Cantonese, Hakka and others.
Lastly, to those celebrating this festival, I wish you "A Happy and Prosperous New Year" and for others, I hope this blog post will give you some insights of Chinese Traditions and Celebration.
Hope you enjoy reading and I end here with a lion dance performance video !