Happy Chinese New Year!

David Barkschat

So what are you? A horse? A snake? A pig? Well, if you happen to be a rat, then you’re in for one lucky year, because 2008 (4705 by some Chinese calendars) is the year of the pesky rat.

Last weekend, celebrations for Feb. 7’s Chinese New Year launched into full swing. Across China and California, New Year celebrations erupted into joyous and energetic festivals. Large metropolitan areas, such as San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Cruz and San Diego welcomed elaborate parades and carnivals celebrating the Year of the Rat.

Chinese New Year, officially known as Lunar New Year, is the most popularly celebrated event for millions of different peoples, including Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Festivals, parades and perhaps most importantly, family gatherings, all occur during the time of the Lunar New Year. The celebration is a time of remembrance for ancestors and it’s also a time when many give thanks.

The Lunar New Year is actually celebrated over fifteen days. Each day has a different type of celebration. On some days, certain relatives are celebrated and different foods are eaten. Each day is distinct and abundantly different. This time of celebration also features different decorations which all have symbolic meaning. For instance the plum blossom symbolizes luck, and the kumquat symbolizes prosperity.

TET, the Vietnamese New Year is also celebrated during this time. In Westminster’s Little Saigon, flower festivals and parades broke out into much excitement.

Throughout the southland, many cities, notably Los Angeles, threw marvelous celebrations. Last Saturday, in and around the city’s Chinatown, The Golden Dragon Parade was held. Booths filled with a dazzling array of authentic and culturally stunning Chinese goods lined the streets. Many different wares were available, ranging from intricate and finely crafted kites, to charming paper dolls and miniature rock gardens, to sweets and colorful lanterns. Even small fireworks were up for sale. Ken Gross, a kite merchant at the Chinatown festival, said, “hundreds of folks come out for the market on New Years, not just Chinese. It’s a blast.” Dozens of colorful kites floated majestically over the celebrations and spectators watched them with expressions of wonder. Gross said out of the kites he was selling that, “the rat kite is very popular. Everyone wants one.” Many little children sported one of the kites, but there wasn’t much room to fly them.

Whether attracted by the market stalls, or the festivals other offerings, there were indeed hundreds present.

“It’s [the festival] so crowded that I’m just navigating by the kites instead of the signs,” said IVC student, Michelle Freeman, 21, English.

The highlights of the festival were certainly the parades. Flag bearers, banner men and lantern bearers paraded with great enthusiasm between the booths. The traditional dragon dance was present as well, manned by skilled volunteers who made the colorful dragon undulate with snake-like realism.

“We actually get a lot of volunteers for the dragons,” said Maian Wang of the South County Chinese Cultural Society. “Everyone wants to take part.”

It is believed that the dragon scares away evil spirits. Sometimes, lions are used instead of dragons. In Hong Kong, the lion is popular in the opening of businesses.

While the large majority of people present were of Chinese descent, the festival did have sections where those who are not experienced with Chinese New Year could learn more about the culture. One activity center had a helpful chart explaining the significance of Chinese astrology and reviled the mystery of what being born in a certain year actually means.

“The rat is symbolic of protection and material prosperity. This festival honors that,” said Karen Farris, an information booth volunteer. “Each animal stands for a different thing.”

For instance, the snake stands for wisdom, tigers are courageous, horses are independent and pigs are honest and straightforward. Of course, these are only a few of their traits.

All in all, the Year of the Rat was welcomed with great excitement, and this year may prove to be very auspicious for those born under its sign.



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