January 28, 2011 / 7:32 AM / 7 years ago

Five facts about the Chinese New Year

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Chinese people across the world welcome the lunar new year on February 3, a period also known as the Spring Festival and marked by a long holiday.

Here are five facts about the festival, its meaning and some of the traditions and superstitions surrounding it:

* This year is the year of the rabbit, according to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar.

People born in the year of the rabbit are believed to be moderate, kind, happy and have great taste, but are also cautious and somewhat mysterious with a propensity to cry.

People born in the years of 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999 and 2011 are all rabbits.

* There are 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, including the pig, the rat, the ox and the snake, and there are several versions of how this came to be.

In one tradition, an ancient Chinese emperor held a race to decide which animal should get the honor of being first in the zodiac. The rat won after hitching a ride on the head of the ox and jumping over the finishing line ahead of him.

* Chinese cities resound to a cacophony of firecrackers and fireworks during the festival in an effort to scare off evil spirits and attract the god of wealth to people’s doorsteps.

Parents and grandparents give red envelopes stuffed with cash to children, sometimes hiding them under pillows on Chinese New Year’s eve to ward off evil and bad luck. Denominations of the number eight are considered best, because “eight” sounds like the expression for “to get wealthy.”

* There are lots of traditional foods eaten. Northern Chinese eat dumplings, which symbolize wealth because their shape resembles old fashioned Chinese gold and silver ingots. Fish is a popular dish, for the word “fish” has the same pronunciation as the word for “abundance.”

* Taboos abound. Crying on New Year’s Day means you will cry for the rest of the year, and washing your hair signifies washing away good luck. The word for “four” is avoided, because it sounds like the word for “death,” and using knives or scissors may “cut off” good fortune.

Children are told not to use bad words to avoid bringing misfortune in the year ahead.

Households carry out a full clean ahead of the new year to clear away old and bad things from the previous year and welcome in the new one with a fresh face.

But woe betide those who clean on new year’s day, for you will be sweeping away good fortune in the year ahead.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Sabrina Mao

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