Happy Chinese New Year - The Year of the Pig
February 19, 2007 is the official New Year in China, and it is the 4705th Chinese Year. Year one was the first year of the reign of the first Chinese King (not emperor, king)- the Yellow King.
The Chinese astrological chart is made up of 12 animals, much like the western astrology charts - but in China the animals rule the years in a 12 year cycle. This year is the year of the Pig.
Traditional Chinese homes will have wishes and blessings on red cards and envelopes, blossoming plants, trays of oranges and tangerines and a candy tray arranged in either a circle or octagon called "The Tray of Togetherness" to start the New Year sweetly.
Shooting off firecrackers on New Year's Eve scares away evil and sends out the old year and welcomes in the New Year. On the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, every door and window in the house have to be open to allow the old year to go out.
Superstitions and customs:
As with any tradition, there are customs that may or may not be observed by families -
Some folks will not lend anything on this day, as it implies they will be lending all year. Negative words, discussions of death, cursing, all are avoided so as not to bring bad fortune. All must look forward on this day, not back. Crying is even avoided. The first person one sees and the first words spoken that day are auspicious for the year. Knives and scissors are unlucky that day as they may cut off good fortune. One does not wash ones hair on that day as it may wash away luck. Red is the color of choice, as it is considered a happy color and a bearer of prosperity. Children, unmarried friends, and close family receive lai see, little red envelopes with crisp one dollar bills inside, for good luck. Sweeping and dusting are done completely before the day, as no sweeping is allowed on the day to avoid brushing away good luck.
The government of Taiwan has an interesting page on the traditions associated with Chinese New Year. My favorite section is:
Even though Lunar New Year celebrations generally last for only several days, starting on New Year's Eve, the festival itself is actually about three weeks long. It begins on the twenty-fourth day of the twelfth lunar month, the day, it is believed, when various gods ascend to heaven to pay their respects and report on household affairs to the Jade Emperor, the supreme Taoist deity. According to tradition, households busily honor these gods by burning ritualistic paper money to provide for their traveling expenses. Another ritual is to smear malt sugar on the lips of the Kitchen God, one of the traveling deities, to ensure that he either submits a favorable report to the Jade Emperor or keeps silent.
So, on this day may all reports about you to your God be favorable, sweet and delicious.