Happy New Year to All from first tuesday! For your enjoyment, first tuesday now presents two new year celebrations from a different part of the world.

Chinese New Year

The Chinese celebrate the new year as the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The first day of the new year may fall on any day between late January and late February, depending on the Chinese calendar, which is set by the moon and other astrological signs. In 2004, Chinese New Year will be celebrated on January 22.

To prepare for the new year, the Chinese begin by cleaning house. A clean house is not only important for a big celebration; it also symbolizes a fresh start to the new year and leaving all of the troubles of the past year behind. People also go shopping for food, clothes, pastries, firecrackers, and everything else they need to celebrate the new year. Most of the shops will be closed for the new year celebrations, which last for two weeks until the Spring Festival.

On New Year’s Eve, everyone comes home for dinner, no matter how far away or busy they are. Each son must return to his mother’s home that night. The New Year’s Eve meal centers around a vegetarian dish, called jai, which is usually made up of vermicelli noodles, dried bean curd, bamboo shoots, carrots, black moss seaweed, gingko nuts, and dried fungus. Each home might serve a different combination of vegetables, but each vegetable has a meaning for the new year. The gingko nuts represent silver ingots. The carrots represent gold coins, since they are cut into circles. The Chinese word for dried bean curd is a homonym for wealth and happiness. The word for black moss seaweed is a homonym for abundant wealth. The word for bamboo shoots also sounds like a phrase that means “wishing the best for everything”. Other dishes on the new year’s table will include a whole fish, which symbolizes togetherness and abundance, and a whole chicken (including the head, tail, and feet), which symbolizes complete prosperity. Uncut noodles represent long life.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, all the doors and windows are opened to usher in the new year. A lot of noise is made at this time, too. Firecrackers are lit and cars often stop on the road and honk their horns.

The Chinese believe that everything that happens on New Year’s Day will have an effect on the rest of the year. Thus, all of the brooms and dusters are put away, because any form of sweeping is said to sweep away good fortune. Knives and scissors must not be used, because they cut off good fortune. People do not wash their hair for fear of washing away good luck. The first thing that children must do after they put on new clothes and go down to breakfast is wish their parents a long life and prosperity for the new year. As a reward, the parents will give their children money in red envelopes, called lai see. Red is a traditional lucky color for the Chinese. Its brightness symbolizes a happy future. On the opposite side, white is never shown or worn on New Year’s, since it symbolizes death.

People try to be on their best behavior for New Year’s Day, because their feelings and actions will color the rest of their year. The person who cries on New Year’s Day will be crying throughout the year. All debts are settled; the person who lends anything will be lending throughout the year. It is unlucky to mention anything about the past year, and it is forbidden to say anything about death, dying or ghosts. Foul language should also be avoided. New Year’s Day is for happiness and good times with family and friends. The first person one sees and the first words one hears signify one’s fortune for the year.

Each year of the Chinese calendar has an animal sign. According to legend, Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him on his last day on earth. Only twelve animals appeared before Buddha’s departure. To reward these animals for their devotion, Buddha named a year for each one. The animals then decided to have a race to see in which order their years would be set. The ox took an early lead, but the rat, feeling that he was very small and likely to come in last, jumped onto the ox’s back. Just before the ox reached the finish line, the rat jumped off and thus became the representative of the first year in the twelve-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. The ox was second, followed by the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the sheep, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig. The Chinese believe that a person’s natural tendencies, fortunes, health and relationships with other people are based on the animal year in which they were born. 2004 is the Year of the Monkey.

Generally, people who were born in the years 1908, 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, and 1992 are monkeys. However, since the Chinese new year is not the same as the new year on the Western calendar, a person who was born in a certain year but before the actual date of the Chinese new year will follow the previous year’s animal sign. For example, a person born on January 30, 1956 was actually born in the year of the sheep since the Chinese new year did not begin until February 12, 1956. Those who are born in the year of the monkey are intelligent and sensitive. They are prepared to fight for a good cause and enjoy taking care of others. However, they can be easily discouraged and need a lot of reassurance and understanding. A person born in the year of the monkey will match well with a person born in the year of the rat or the year of the dragon.

For more information on the animals of the Chinese zodiac, please visit www.new-year.co.uk/chinese/index.htm.

For more information on Chinese New Year history and traditions, please visit www.educ.uvic.ca/faculty/mroth/438/CHINA/chinese_new_year.html.

Japanese New Year

The Japanese celebrate the new year, called O Shogatsu, on the 1st of January, but preparations for the new year are begun at least a week before. First the house must be cleaned from top to bottom, and all bad luck must be swept out. A decorative, twisted straw rope called shimenawa is placed over the doorway to bring in good luck and to keep out evil. Pine tree branches, bamboo, plum branches and straw are bound together in decorations called kadomatsu to place outside the front of the house.

Pine and bamboo are symbols of longevity. Other symbols of longevity include the turtle and the crane. These symbols are often featured in new year’s decorations. For example, a wooden paddle, which can be either simple or grand, is often painted with a picture of a beautiful lady alongside symbols of longevity and displayed in Japanese homes for the new year.

Offerings to the gods are also set up in the home for the new year. Kagamimochi, made up of two mochi or glutinous rice cakes, one placed on top of the other, is often in a corner of the main room of the house. Shimekazari, consisting of crops and a prawn (which is another symbol of a prayer for longevity), is offered to the gods in thanks and as a prayer for a bountiful harvest in the coming year.

Everyone sends postcards with “Happy New Year” written on them to family, friends and acquaintances.

The Japanese also prepare a lot of food before the new year, since no one is allowed to labor for the first three days of the new year. If the cooking is not finished before the new year starts, famine and misfortune will prevail throughout the year. Traditional food for the new year, called o sechi ryori, is prepared and served cold for the holiday.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, all the Buddhist temples in Japan ring their bells to usher in the new year. The bells must be rung 108 times to represent the Buddhist teaching of the 108 worldly desires possessed by every person. Beginning on New Year’s Eve, people visit a temple or shrine to pray for good health and happiness in the coming year. Those who visit the Yasaka Shrine on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day are given a burning rope of medicinal herbs, called okera, which they take home in order to make a fire. They believe that eating food cooked over a fire made by the burning okera ensures good health.

At sunrise on New Year’s Day, people make a wish for happiness, health and prosperity during the new year. All traditional new year’s dishes are eaten, including hot buckwheat noodles, called soba, eggs, black beans, and red bean rice. Mochi can be served either steamed with soy sauce and sugar or in soup.

Also, each person must eat as many soybeans as necessary to represent their age.

On the first three days of the new year, people visit their relatives and friends. Children are given pocket money, called o toshidama, from their parents and relatives. The games that the children play include Japanese badminton, called hanetsuki, and a card game called Hyakunin-Isshu, the Verses of a Hundred Poets.

Thanks to Ai M. Kelley and to the following books:

A Look Into Japan. Japan: Japan Travel Bureau, Inc., 1994.

Book of Kansai, The. Japan: Pia Co., Ltd., 1994.

Hinder, Philip. In Japan. Hong Kong: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1997.

For more information on New Year’s celebrations around the world, please visit www.topics-mag.com.