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CHAPTER EIGHT

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is the most important festivity for the Chinese people in America and Great Britain. It is also called the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year.

The exact date on the Western calendar changes from year to year. However, Chinese New Year takes place between 1 January and 19 February. On the Chinese lunar calendar every month begins with the new moon.

Every year has an animal’s name. These animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. A Chinese legend says that these twelve animals had a race. The first year was named after the rat, the winner. The other eleven years were named after the order in which the animals arrived in the race. The clever rat jumped onto the ox’s back then at the end jumped over the ox’s head to arrive first!

The Chinese believe that a person born in a particular year has some of the characteristics of that animal.

Celebrations in Chinese families last for about two weeks. The celebrations begin with traditional house cleaning. The Chinese get rid of old and useless things. They do this to throw away the misfortunes of the past year.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve all family members enjoy a big, delicious meal. It is very important for the Chinese to be with their families on this occasion. Fish is always part of the dinner because it represents abundance.

On New Year’s Day all Chinese children wear new clothes with bright colours. Red is considered a lucky colour. Parents and relatives give children the traditional New Year’s gift called ‘Lai see’ (lucky money). This money is put into bright red and gold envelopes. Red is a traditional colour for festivals, celebrations, weddings and birthdays.

In Britain a parade takes place in Soho, London. This is one of the biggest parades in an English-speaking country. Dragon or lion dancers often lead the parade. In Chinatown, Soho there are many Chinese restaurants. It is possible to stop and eat typical Chinese food.

Chinese New Year was celebrated on 21 February, 1851 for the first time in San Francisco! This was during the California Gold Rush. A lot of Chinese immigrants worked in California during the Gold Rush.

In big American cities such as San Francisco, New York, Honolulu and Houston, Chinese New Year is a major event with wonderful parades.

San Francisco, California, has the biggest Oriental community outside of Asia. This area of San Francisco is called Chinatown. There are many Chinese shops, restaurants and libraries in Chinatown. All street and shop signs are written in Chinese! During the Chinese New Year, Chinatown is decorated with beautiful ornaments.

Most of the costumes and masks come from Hong Kong. Every year there is a Miss Chinatown USA beauty and talent contest.

The lion dancers are always part of the festivities. The lion has a big head and long body made of cloth. The lion dance is accompanied by drums, cymbals and noisy firecrackers. According to ancient traditions the great noise frightens away evil spirits.

The dragon is the most important figure of the Chinese New Year festivities and parades. The dragon is considered a lucky figure. A parade dragon can be 20 to 30 metres long! Sixty or more men move under a long cloth that represents the dragon’s tail.

During the parade children represent the animals of the Chinese calendar. There are also acrobats and musicians in beautiful costumes.

Every year the San Francisco parade attracts thousands of spectators. It is a magnificent event.

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