The Myths Behind the Chinese New Year

Friday, February 16 marks the Chinese New Year, one of the most important  holidays celebrated by the Chinese people.  Some say the holiday was born out of fear from the myth of a wild beast Nian. According to legend, this beast would come into the village and attack and kill the villagers. The only way to scare him off was with loud noises, bright lights, and the color red, so villagers lit bamboo torches,  and covered themselves in red to chase the monster away.  This day became Guo Nian, or "Pass over the year," and records show that this 15-day celebration began as early as 2300 BC.

This celebration is also known as the Spring Festival, where families celebrated a year of hard work by getting together with friends and family.  Food is an important part of this holiday, and a number of foods are eaten for good luck.  Most dishes revolve around these few staples:  fish, dumplings, and a traditional New Year's cake made from sticky rice, dates, sugar, and lotus leaves. Chicken, duck, and pork dishes also figure prominently.  

Did you know that the Chinese have their own zodiac signs and system? Legend states than an emperor ordered twelve animals to swim across a river to attend his party:  a rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and a pig. The rat decided to jump on the ox's, and then leap to the bank to win. The monkey, rooster, and the dog were out fighting evil spirits in another country with the gods, so they arrived all at the same time.  So the emperor decided to put them in order by who met the gods first. This "order" marks the twelve-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac. Indeed, a magical way to create a chronology of time. These 12 zodiac symbols are similar to Western astrology, with one big distinction:   the animal symbols align with the year of your birth and not the day.

2018 falls under the 8th zodiac symbol, so welcome to the year of the dog!

~Brooke Burkepile

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Chris Corey, Middletown High School South


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