Celebrate the Chinese New Year!

The Chinese New Year begins Tuesday, February 5, 2019.  It is the Year of the Pig.

Celebrate the Chinese New Year: The Year of the Pig

2019 is the Year of the Pig

According to www.chinesenewyear2018.com, the facts below are just 21 Things You Didn’t Know about the Chinese New Year.

1. Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival

In China, you’ll hear it being called chunjie (春节), or the Spring Festival. It’s still very wintry, but the holiday marks the end of the coldest days. People welcome spring and what it brings along: planting and harvests, new beginnings and fresh starts.

You can also call it the Lunar New Year, because countries such as North and South Korea and Vietnam celebrate it as well. And because the Spring Festival goes according to the lunar calendar. Which means . . .

2. There’s no set date for Chinese New Year

According to the Lunar calendar, the Spring Festival is on January 1st and lasts until the 15th (the full moon). But when you try to calculate it with the solar (Gregorian) calendar, the date is all over the place.

Chinese New Year ranges from January 21 to February 20. In 2018, it occurs on February 16. For a full list of dates and events check out our Chinese New Year calendar.

The lunar calendar is still really important in China, even though it has officially moved to the Gregorian calendar like the rest of the world. All traditional holidays and days such as the Winter Solstice are celebrated. Some people still calculate their birthdays and ages according to the lunar calendar too!

3. It is a day for praying to gods

The Spring Festival was originally a ceremonial day to pray to gods for a good planting and harvest season. As an agrarian society, the harvest was everything. People also prayed to their ancestors, as they were treated as gods (see Mulan for reference).

4. and fighting off monsters

But the myths are much more interesting. According to one legend, there was a monster named Nian (年). It would come about every New Year’s Eve. Most people would hide in their homes. But one boy was brave enough to fight him off using firecrackers. The next day, people celebrated their survival by setting off even more firecrackers. And that practice became a crucial part of the Spring Festival.

5. The most fireworks are set off in the world that night

As in the myth about Nian, firecrackers are supposed to scare off monsters and bad luck. So people stay up on Chinese New Year’s Eve and set off firecrackers at midnight. In the morning, firecrackers are used again to welcome the new year and good luck.

6. (but sometimes it’s illegal)

Due to safety reasons and concerns for air pollution, many Chinese cities have banned fireworks. More than 500 cities have restrictions too.

But… many people don’t care and they do it anyway. Beijing had banned fireworks for 13 years. The ban was lifted in 2006 because of the angry public.

If you’re in China during this time, you’ll probably be able to hear and see the explosions for at least 3 nights (and it can go on for weeks).

7. It is the longest Chinese holiday

The Spring Festival is technically 15 days. But celebrations start on New Year’s Eve (making it 16 days). You can also say that the holiday season starts in (lunar) December with the Laba Festival (腊八节—là bā jié). That’s around 40 days of celebrations!

Traditionally, you have to spend time with your family and can only go out after the 5th day. It’s a national holiday. The large majority of stores are closed too.

So in the month before, people will buy nian huo (年货), or New Year’s products. The Chinese stock up on cooking supplies, snacks, gifts, new clothes and more.

8. The Spring Festival causes the largest human migration in the world

The most important part of Chinese New Year is the family reunion. Everyone should come back home for the New Year’s Eve dinner.

But since in modern China, most elderly parents live in rural villages while their children work in the cities. The migration back home and to go on vacation is called chunyun (春运), or Spring Migration.

Plus, the earliest you can buy train tickets is 60 days before. It leads to a mad rush of literally fighting for tickets. In 2015, statistics showed that around 1,000 tickets were sold each second.

9. Singles hire fake boy/girlfriends to take home

You know those nosy relatives during Thanksgiving? It’s even worse in China. Especially since having children and passing down the family name is one of the most important parts in Chinese culture.

Some desperate singles resort to hire a fake boyfriend or girlfriend to take home. Those who can’t (or don’t want to) go home can rent themselves out. For some of the other questions though, such as your salary, career or when you want to have kids, can’t be helped.

10. No showering, sweeping or throwing out garbage allowed!

Showering isn’t allowed New Year’s Day. Sweeping and throwing out garbage isn’t allowed before the 5th. This is to make sure you don’t wash away the good luck!

On the other hand, there’s a day before the Spring Festival dedicated to cleaning. This day is to sweep the bad luck away and make room for the good.

What else is taboo during Chinese New Year?

  • Hair cutting (before February 2)
  • Using scissors, knives and other sharp things
  • Arguing, swearing
  • Saying unlucky words (such as “death” and “sickness”)
  • Breaking things

Check out our full list of taboos to learn more.

11. Children receive lucky money in red envelopes

In other cultures, children receive gifts for holidays. Gifts are also exchanged during the Spring Festival. But Chinese children receive something else too—red envelopes.

Also called red packets or pockets, they include money. This money is supposed to help transfer fortune from the elders to the kids. They can also be given between bosses and employees, co-workers, and friends.

With the development of technology, digital red pockets are the trend now. People like to send one into group chats and watch the others fight for the money. This is called qiang hongbao (抢红包), or literally “snatching red pockets”.

12. You eat dumplings for every meal, every day

Well, technically you’re supposed to. But not many people do that anymore because you can have too much of even the most delicious foods. So most people will eat dumplings during the New Year’s Eve dinner. Others will eat them for the first breakfast.

Contrary to popular belief though, dumplings aren’t popular everywhere in China. It’s more of a northern thing. In the South, people would rather eat spring rolls (egg rolls) and balls of glutinous rice in soup called tangyuan (汤圆).

13. Chinese New Year desserts have special meanings

A lot cultures have symbolic foods, such as the Yule Log cake. But so many Chinese New Year desserts have special meanings behind them. And it’s mostly puns in the name.

Take the tangyuan for example. It literally means “soup balls.” But it sounds like tuanyuan (团圆), which means reunion. So it’s no surprise it’s a popular dessert during Chinese New Year.

Nian gao (年糕) is a type of rice cake. It symbolizes success each and every year.

Fa gao (发糕) is a the hybrid of sponge cakes and muffins. People dye it festive colors. The fa is the same as in fa cai (发财), which means “to get rich.” And everyone wants that!

Isn’t it nice to have a better reason to get seconds?

14. There’s wine specifically for the Spring Festival

Chinese people love drinking. There’s a saying that there’s no manners and/or etiquette without wine. This means that you need to have wine for every ceremony, festival or important dinner.

There’s wine for engagement dinners, weddings, birthdays… and of course, the Spring Festival. With such a rich wine culture, it’s no surprise that there is a bunch of drinking games you play. However, it’s not all fun and games.

When you’re eating with someone older than you, as is the case with New Year’s dinners, you need to follow strict toasting etiquette rules. They include the order of toasts, seating, how you hold the wine glass etc. etc. To learn more read our post on Chinese New Year’s drinks and etiquette.

15. The Chinese decorate everything red for Chinese New Year

Every family will deck their homes in this color. Do you remember the story about Nian? Firecrackers aren’t the only thing that scared the monster away. Red is also an invaluable weapon, and used in nearly all Chinese New Year decorations.

The Chinese will hang up red lanterns and strings of (real or fake) chili peppers, paste red paper onto doors and windows, and more!

New clothes are also believed to bring good luck and start over fresh. People will add new red clothing to their Spring Festival wardrobe too.

16. Every year has a zodiac animal

Western horoscopes include 12 zodiacs, one for each month. There are 12 Chinese zodiacs as well, but the animal is for the entire year.

Chinese New Year zodiac animals

They are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.

2018 is the year of the dog. Some of the animals (such as Rat, Snake, Dog and Pig) aren’t normally well-liked in Chinese culture. But as a zodiac, their positive traits are bestowed on people born that year.

They play a much bigger role than in Western cultures. Your animal can decide your career, health and relationship success. Make sure you find out what zodiac animal you are!

17. Your zodiac year is bad luck

Your benming year (本命年—běn mìng nián) is the year of your zodiac animal. And of the 12 year cycle, it is the unluckiest for you.

There are multiple explanations for this. The Chinese believe that children can easily be taken by demons. And your benming year is your rebirth year.

During this year, your weapon of defense is the color red. Just as you can decorate your home in red for protection and fortune, you can also wear red clothing. Many people will wear red underwear every day of the year. Others add on red shirts, pants, jewelry, insoles and more!

18. You grow 1 year older on the Spring Festival

In China, you have a “real” age (实岁—shí suì) and a “fake” nominal age (虚岁—xū suì). The real age is the one we all know about. You grow one year older on your birthday. The nominal age though, increases with the Spring Festival.

This was the age most people went with until recent times. But it’s still common nowadays, or used interchangeably. If you’re particular about it, make sure you ask!

19. The New Year greeting in Chinese is “xin nian kuai le”

The phrase literally means “Happy New Year.” But in Hong Kong and other Cantonese-speaking regions, it’s more common to say “gong hei fat choy.” In Mandarin Chinese, it’s “gong xi fa cai” (恭喜发财). It means “congratulations on the fortune.”

Chinese New Year calligraphy blessings

Calligraphy with New Year blessings.

If you check out other greetings or blessings, you’ll see that most are about:

  • Plentiful harvests
  • Wealth and fortune
  • Health and longevity
  • Having children and large families

Food, money and health are things that everyone wants. Passing down the family name is of utmost importance. That’s one of the reasons why China has such a large population.

20. Chinese New Year ends with the Lantern Festival

The first full moon of the (lunar) year is the Yuanxiao Festival (元宵节—yuán xiāo jié) or Lantern Festival (灯节—dēng jié). Though family is still important, it’s still a night of partying and freedom.

In ancient times, girls weren’t allowed to venture outside by themselves. But on this night, they were able to walk around, moon-gaze and look at the beautiful lanterns. Because of this, it’s also known as Valentine’s Day in China.

21. Chinese New Year is celebrated all around the world

One out of every 5 people in the world is Chinese. But that stat doesn’t include the millions of overseas Chinese and people of Chinese descent.

London, England; San Francisco, USA; Sydney, Australia; all claim to have the biggest Spring Festival celebrations outside of Asia.

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Chinatown in Chicago, IL, USA

 

 

Find out more regarding the Chinese New Year by clicking: Year of the Pig

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Christmas Sherbet Punch

Recipe by Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman for The Food Network

 

Yield: 20 Servings

Christmas Sherbet Punch

Photo by the Food Network

 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 gallon raspberry sherbet
  • 16 cups (1 gallon) cranberry juice (or cranberry mixed with pomegranate), well chilled
  • Two 2-liter bottles ginger ale, well chilled

 

Directions:

Make sure all the ingredients are very cold. Scoop the sherbet into a large punch bowl, then pour in the cranberry juice and ginger ale and stir gently.

 

12 Days of Christmas: An Underground Catechism Song?

Fact or Fiction?

The Real Meaning behind the 12 Days of Christmas

Partridge in a Pear Tree illustration  At one time, it was a crime to be Catholic.

During 1558 to 1829, Catholics in England were prohibited by law from any practice of their faith… private or public.  To be caught with anything in writing, indicating the adherence to the Catholic Faith, would find a person imprisoned, hanged…or hanged, drawn and quartered.

The “Twelve Days of Christmas” was written in England as one of the “catechism songs” to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith… a memory aid.

Rosary

Despite the absence of hard evidence that the 12 Days of Christmas is a song of catechism, it can still be used as a learning tool.

In 1979, a Canadian hymnologist, Hugh D. McKellar, published an article, “How to Decode the Twelve Days of Christmas”, claiming that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” lyrics were intended as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn their faith, at a time when practising Catholicism was criminalized in England (1558 until 1829). McKellar offered no evidence for his claim and subsequently admitted that the purported associations were his own invention.[29] The idea was further popularized by a Catholic priest, Fr. Hal Stockert, in an article he wrote in 1982 and posted online in 1995,[30][31] In 1987 and 1992, Fr. James Gilhooley, chaplain of Mount Saint Mary College of Newburgh, New York repeated these claims.[32][33] None of the enumerated items would distinguish Catholics from Protestants, and so would hardly need to be secretly encoded.[3]

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, author of the Crossroads Initiative,  writes “The “Twelve Days of Christmas” refer to the eight days of the Christmas Octave from December 25 to New Years Day, and the four additional days up to and including the eve of January 6, the traditional date of the Epiphany. In the USA and many other countries, Epiphany is now celebrated on the first Sunday after New Years, so the exact number 12 does not necessarily apply. But the point is, don’t throw out the tree on the 26th–the birth of the Savior can’t be celebrated adequately in one day. Let the celebration continue through at least through the Feast of the Epiphany–if not through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

According to the Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals by Ann Ball, the famous song about the 12 Days of Christmas was written in England as a catechism song for young Catholics in the days when it was illegal to practice or teach the Catholic Faith. It contains hidden meanings intended to help children remember lessons of faith. Instead of referring to an earthly suitor, the “true love” mentioned in the song really refers to God. The “me” who receives the presents is symbolic of every baptized person.

There appears to be no conclusive historical evidence to prove this origin of the song, Nevertheless, the traditional association between the gifts mentioned in the song and various spiritual gifts is a fun way to turn a seemingly secular Christmas carol into a valuable catechetical tool. So let’s have fun with it!”

12 Days of Christmas

The song’s gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith.  The “true love” mentioned in the song refers to God, Himself.  The “me” who receives the presents refers to every baptized person.  The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (A mother partridge will feign injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings.)

the bird, partridge

A mother partridge will distract a predictor from her young in order to save them. The partridge in the song “12 Days of Christmas” represents Jesus.

The other symbols mean the following:

2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments

3 French Hens = the Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity)

4 Calling Birds = The Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists

5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the “Pentateuch,” which gives the history of man’s fall from Grace.

6 Geese-a-Laying = The Six Days of Creation

7 Swans-a-Swimming = the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the 7 sacraments

8 Maids-a-Milking = the Eight Beatitudes

9 Ladies Dancing = the Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

10 Lords-a-Leaping = the Ten Commandments

11 Pipers Piping = the Eleven faithful Apostles

12 Drummers Drumming = the Twelve points of Doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed

 

Ham Balls with Brown Sugar Glaze

Recipe by Taste of Home©

Ham-Balls-with-Brown-Sugar-Glaze_EXPS_THD16_6835_07B_27_6b-696x696

Photo by Taste of Home©

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fully cooked ham, cubed
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup crushed cornflakes
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

 

GLAZE:

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon ground mustard

Directions:

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Pulse ham in batches in a food processor until finely ground. Combine with the next seven ingredients just until mixed. Shape into 1-in. balls; place in a single layer on greased 15×10-in. rimmed baking pans.
  2. For glaze, cook and stir all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Spoon over ham balls. Bake until ham balls are just beginning to brown, 30-35 minutes, rotating pans and carefully stirring halfway through. Gently toss in glaze. Serve warm.

 

 

Nutrition Facts

1 meatball: 52 calories, 2g fat (1g saturated fat), 11mg cholesterol, 113mg sodium, 5g carbohydrate (4g sugars, 0 fiber), 3g protein.

Originally published as Ham Balls in Country Pork

Smokey Bacon Wraps Recipe

Recipe by Taste of Home

Smokey Bacon Wraps

Photo by Taste of Home©

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sliced bacon
  • 1 package (16 ounces) miniature smoked sausage links
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar

 

Directions: 

  1. Cut each bacon strip in half widthwise. Wrap one piece of bacon around each sausage.
  2. Place in a foil-lined 15x10x1-in. baking pan. Sprinkle with brown sugar.
  3. Bake, uncovered, at 400° for 30-40 minutes or until bacon is crisp and sausage is heated through.

 
Nutrition Facts

1 piece: 90 calories, 7g fat (2g saturated fat), 18mg cholesterol, 293mg sodium, 2g carbohydrate (2g sugars, 0 fiber), 5g protein.
Originally published as Smoky Bacon Wraps in Quick Cooking January/February 2001