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Chinese New Year

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Chinese New Year celebrates the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar, which falls on Feb. 14 this year. As part of the celebration, people purchase presents, decorations, and food; clean their houses to sweep away ill fortune; and decorate windows with red paper proclamations of wealth, happiness, and longevity.

The eve before the New Year, families feast on pigs, duck, chickens, and sweets, concluding the evening with firecrackers. In some parts of China, dumplings are consumed at midnight, and in others a New Year cake. The following morning children are given red paper envelopes bearing money. On the first day of the New Year, it is common to avoid eating meat out of the belief that this will ensure longevity. Also, lighting fires and using knives are considered bad luck. New Years’ celebrations are a 15-day affair with particular customs and habits associated with each day.

In Chinese astrology years are associated with various animals. The New Year in 2010 ushers in the Year of the Tiger, putting an end to the Year of the Ox.

On the second day of the new year, celebrants pray to their ancestors and are especially kind to dogs. On the third and fourth day it is thought best to avoid visiting friends and relatives. The fifth day is the birthday of the Chinese god of wealth. The seventh day, renri, is the day when everyone turns a year older. The eighth day is commemorated by a family dinner, and by this time everyone returns to work. The remaining days are celebrated with specific customs for each day.

The mythology affiliated with the Chinese New Year centers upon a beast called Nien, who descended upon villages on the first day of the New Year to devour crops, livestock, and people. To prevent the attacks, people placed food on their doorsteps on this day. When a child wearing red clothing frightened Nien, the villagers realized that the beast was afraid of the color red and decorated their homes accordingly with red lanterns and scrolls. They also used firecrackers to frighten Nien away. One day, Nien was captured by a Taoist monk, who used the beast as his mount.

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