According to the lunar calendar, 2013 is the Year of the Snake and begins on February 10th. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, where New Year’s Day is consistent (January 1st), the actual date of Chinese (aka Lunar) New Year ranges from late-January to mid-February. This is because it’s celebrated on the day of the first new moon of a new year.
Similar to the Western zodiac, the Chinese zodiac consists of 12 signs; however, its cycle is 12 years, not months. All 12 signs are animals – rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig – and supposedly give hints to a person’s temperament and character. Those born in the Year of the Snake are said to be good-tempered and possess gracious morality, but can also be jealous and suspicious.
The common greeting for Chinese New Year is “Gung hay fat choy”, which translates to “wishing you good fortune and happiness”. Most traditions surrounding this celebration are meant to ensure a happy, safe, and prosperous year. Two that I fondly recall from my childhood are lycee and firecrackers. Every year, we would celebrate Chinese New Year with my father’s parents, or Po-po and Ah-Goong (Chinese for grandma and grandpa), who immigrated to Hawaii from China. They would give lycee or “lucky money” to the kids – small red envelopes filled with money, which were meant to protect us from evil spirits. Then to ensure that our year was off to a rousing and lucky start, Ah-Goong would hang several long strings of red-paper firecrackers on a pole. Once we got the cotton in our ears, he’d light them, creating enough noise to scare away any evil spirits (or stray cats) that may be lurking. Afterward the ground was a sea of red paper bits, which was apropos since in China, the color red signifies health, happiness, harmony, peace, and prosperity. Gung hay fat choy, everyone!