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Chinese New Year: Year of the Monkey

Rebecca Wilkowski (CollegeNews) -- Welcome to the year of the Monkey! The Chinese Lunar New Year is the longest chronological record in history, dating from 2600 BC.

The Chinese calendar is a yearly one, with the start of the year being based on the cycles of the moon. Therefore, the beginning of the year can fall anywhere from late January to mid February. This year it falls on January 22.

A complete cycle of the calendar takes 60 years and is made up of five cycles of 12 years each. Each of the 12 years is named after an animal. Legend says that Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. Only 12 came to say farewell and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person was born has a profound influence on his/her personality. The Chinese Zodiac consists of the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

In the Lunar Calendar, the Monkey represents revolution, movement and changes. People born in the year of the Monkey are the erratic geniuses of the cycle. Indeed, Monkeys are often too smart for their own good, making them opportunistic and manipulative. Women born under this influence are particularly susceptible to this trait, especially in their relationships with men.

Though Monkeys are great at making people believe that they get along well with everyone, people born under this influence can be self-centered and proud, considering themselves above those born under other signs.

Clever, skillful, and flexible, Monkeys are remarkably inventive and original and can solve the most difficult problems with ease. These attributes make them wonderful businessmen, for they are great with facts and figures and can easily pick up new skills.

Because of this, the Monkey can succeed in any profession, though their need to be noticed makes them prefer show business.

The Monkey's love of money ensures that people born under this influence will chose careers guaranteed to make lots of it, and their finely tuned people skills will certainly allow them to make the most out of any business situation.

Monkeys also love knowledge and art. They are enthusiastic about every subject, though they tend to have short attention spans. Those born under this influence need constant stimulation and excitement to keep them interested. This trait carries over in their love lives as well. Though Monkeys are great at making friends, they have trouble finding lovers that can keep them satisfied. Their need for excitement and originality can sometimes make it hard for them to stay committed to one person.

However, no other sign is as charming, amusing, and romantic a lover as the Monkey. Once these mischievous people decide to settle down, they make wonderful partners, and tend to have a lot of children.

Those born under the Monkey are fascinating and witty people. September is the month of the Monkey, and their direction of orientation is west-southwest. The Monkey's color is gold. Monkeys are most compatible with the Dog, Dragon, and Rat.

The celebrations of Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, last 15 days and are some of the most festive of the year. Preparations usually begin about one month before the New Year. Homes are thoroughly cleaned to sweep away any traces of bad luck. Doors and windowpanes are given a new coat of red paint and hung with paper scrolls decorated with themes of happiness, wealth, and longevity, a practice believed to keep away ghosts and evil spirits. Many traditional Chinese homes also have live blooming plants and flowers symbolizing rebirth and wealth such as blossoms, peony flowers, and kumquat trees.

Because it is believed that one's behavior during New Year's sets the tone for the rest of the year, words that sound like unlucky or undesirable events, such as death or poverty, are not to be spoken. Arguments, scolding children, crying, and breaking things are also taboo. During this time, it is typical to wear something red as this color is believed to ward off evil spirits. Black and white are avoided, as these colors are associated with mourning.

On New Year's eve, traditions are carefully observed. An elaborate dinner with large amounts of traditional food symbolizing abundance and wealth for the household is prepared. Each of the nine to 12 courses signifies a good wish such as happiness, good luck, or prosperity. Nian Gao, the New Year's cake and the prosperity tray, an eight-sided tray filled with fruit, snacks, cookies, and cakes, are also served to guests. Each item of the tray represents a type of good fortune: red dates and lotus seeds bring prosperity, melon seeds bring proliferation, and oranges and tangerines bring wealth and good fortune.

After dinner, families stay up and visit together until midnight, when fireworks light up the sky and doors and windows are opened to allow the old year to go out. The custom of putting up red paper and lighting firecrackers began as a way to scare off Nian, a beast that preyed on people the night before the beginning of a new year. Nian destroyed the villages, injured the villagers, and took away the live stock and grain stored for the winter. One year, as the monster appeared, it was scared away by the color and crackling sounds made by bamboo used in the villagers' fires. From this time on, villagers burned bamboo sticks to keep the monster away during the New Year. Today, firecrackers have replaced the burning of bamboo sticks as a way to drive off evil energy and attain peace and good fortune.

New Years day is spent visiting family, friends and neighbors. A custom called Hong Bao, or Red Packet, takes place. As a symbol of good luck married couples give children, unmarried adults, and the elderly money in red envelopes. Performances of the dragon and lion dances can also be seen in the streets. Chinese consider lions to be good omens able to repel demons and evil and bring good luck. The dances are accompanied by loud music played on drums, gongs, and cymbals. When the dancers stop in front of a residence or business, it is thought to bring good fortune to the occupants. In return, the residents usually present the dancers with money as a thank you and reward. The Festival of Lanterns, a celebration with singing, dancing, and lantern shows, marks the end of the New Year. Often used to adorn temples, the decorative lanterns come in many shapes and sizes and depict animals, flowers, historical figures, and scenes from popular stories.

The Chinese use the New Year as a time to express their appreciation for protection and good fortune during the year. It is also a time of reconciliation when debts are paid and old grudges are easily cast aside. Although celebrations of the Chinese New Year vary, the underlying message is one of peace and happiness.

© 2004 CollegeNews.com

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