Paraders march down the street for the Vietnamese New Year event in San Jose, Calif., 2009. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Lunar New Year is known to be one of the most important holidays on the Chinese and Vietnamese calendar.
For many of the students of Chinese and Vietnamese origin, the Lunar New Year is an occasion that allows them to connect with their parents and elders. The traditions parents passed on to their children for generations are still present during every new year’s celebration.
One of the aspects of the Lunar New Year is the reliance on the zodiac animals. There are 12 animals present in the zodiac and the cycle starts off with the rat and ends with the pig. According to Joanne Chen, Chinese instructor at Irvine Valley College, the zodiac animals were used in a system to calculate the years. This helped people to figure out the ages of their peers as well as determine the personality traits of an individual.
2011 marks the Year of the Rabbit. People who are born under this animal are known to be articulate, talented, as well as possessing good taste. Some famous celebrities born with this animal include Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Albert Einstein, and Whitney Houston.
Superstitions play a significant role in both the Chinese and Vietnamese Lunar New Year and although some are outdated, most are still followed in today’s times.
Jenny Du, 19, nursing, said that her family is primarily Buddhist and follows traditions that correlate to the religion.
“At the beginning of the new year, we clean up the house in order to being something new for the future, specifically good luck,” Du said.
Some of the other superstitions observed in the new year include the avoidance of the number four. In Chinese mythology, the number four is akin to the word “death” and many people of Chinese background avoid having four items placed together.
Many of the traditional foods consumed during the Lunar New Year carry a symbolic meaning. For example, those of Vietnamese culture, eat banh trung, a special rice cake consisting of seasoned pork, mashed mung beans, and sticky rice wrapped and steamed in banana leaves.
In China there are numerous dishes that are made for the celebration and most are consumed with the family to promote unity. One such popular meal prepared during the holiday is nian gao. It is a type of cake made from glutinous rice and the very meaning of the food’s name is similar to the words “higher year” in Chinese. It is believed that when one eats nian gao, it will help the person succeed more in the upcoming year.
As for both Chinese and Vietnamese cultures, one of the items they share in the New Year are small red envelopes filled with money. Called “hong bao” in Mandarin Chinese, “lai see” in Cantonese, and “li xi” in Vietnamese, they are normally given to children and those not married. The red color represents a sign of good luck as well as to ward off evil spirits.
Festivities are also a common occurrence during the holiday and families and friends gather together to ring in the celebration. The lion dance is one of the most iconic sights during a Chinese or Vietnamese New Year festival and it displays tremendous energy. Two dancers mimic the movements of a lion underneath a lion costume and the performance is intended to bring prosperity for the year.