Chinese New Year Lion Dance

Many of us are inclined to call it Chinese New Year, but it’s really more appropriate to call it Lunar New Year. After all, several other cultures aside from Chinese celebrate it. I’ve always grown up romanizing the phrase as Gung Hay Fat Choy, but you might see it elsewhere written as Kung Hei Fat Choy, Gong Hay Fat Choi, or some other variation. It’s the way you wish someone a happy Chinese (Lunar) New Year.

Whatever the case, today marks the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. More specifically, it’s the Year of the Water Dragon. In traditional Chinese philosophy, there are five elements (Wu Xing): wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each of these cycles through the 12 zodiac signs, effectively creating a 60-year cycle. The Dragon is the only animal in the Chinese zodiac that is legendary. It’s supposed to be a good year to get married.

Aside: I was born a water dog. Ironically, this associates me with October (my birth month) and Canada (my country). Water is yin, but Dog is yang, so I guess that makes me balanced. Go figure.

There are going to be some regional differences, since not all Chinese cultures are the same, but here are a few general traditions that I have learned as they apply to this first day of the new calendar year.

  1. Avoid lighting fires or using knives as these are bad luck, destroying the luck of the new year.
  2. Try not to clean anything in the house, as this can “wipe away” the luck and the fresh start that the new year brings. This also includes not washing your hair.
  3. Married members of the family should give lucky red envelopes (with money) to the single, junior members of the family. You generally don’t give red envelopes to family members in the same generational level as you.

I’ve also heard of people avoiding the consumption of meat on New Year’s Day, as this is supposed to ensure longevity. Firecrackers, fireworks, and lion dances are quite common too.

The great thing about living in a city like Vancouver is that we embrace our multiculturalism. I haven’t had the opportunity to attend yet, but I love the concept of cultural mashups like Gung Haggis Fat Choy. That’s awesome.