Are you a monkey? According to Chinese zodiac cycle, if you were born in 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992 or 2004 then you're a monkey. And if you're following Chinese tradition that dates back to the Shang Dynasty, being a monkey means you better be extra cautious this year. Why? Chinese tradition believes bad luck is certain to follow monkeys during a monkey-year and guess what? The Chinese New Year starts on February 8th and this is the year of the monkey. But don't panic! There are ways to avoid additional bad luck which I'll explain shortly, but first...some background:
The date of the Chinese New Year is determined by the lunar calendar but always falls sometime between January 21st and February 20th. It's a weeklong celebration that begins on New Year’s Eve (February 7th this year). For seven days, the Chinese are off work and they use that time to relax with family, celebrate their successes during the year, and wish their loved ones good luck on the year ahead.
The festival has seen some changes in its long history. Evidence exists today indicating that the Chinese calendar has been around since 14th Century B.C. In 1912, the Chinese began treating January 1st as New Year’s Day like the western world, but near the end of the 20th century they began celebrating the traditional Chinese New Year again, but this time under a new name—The Spring Festival. Traditionally, the holiday was a chance to focus on family and the home. Houses were cleaned thoroughly to rid them of bad luck and to appease the gods, and family gathered for the large New Year's Eve feast. Elders would give the children money and everyone would wish friends and family good luck in the form of red envelopes, lanterns, and scrolls posted to their doors. Firecrackers were set off to scare away any evil spirits and it was a time for prayer and reflection. In recent years, the tradition has changed slightly. It's still typical that families gather for the large New Year’s feast and they exchange gifts and well-wishes, but now most of those well-wishes are exchanged via text message. The focus on family during this week has dwindled a bit as well, with the younger generations preferring to use the week-long holiday more as a time to relax than as a time to check in with family. Still, the traditional red lanterns (red is believed to bring good luck), festivals, and firework displays are seen throughout the country during the Spring Festival.
The spring festival customs include the practice of some interesting traditions and taboos. For all you monkeys, read carefully as you don't want to pile on any additional bad luck. First, some Chinese people refrain from cleaning or washing their hair during the first three days of the Spring Festival, as it's believed they'll wash away good luck. Refrain from begging (especially for money) if you want good fortune, and whatever you do, don't let your baby cry. A crying child during the week is believed to bring bad luck to the family. Also, it's a good idea to stock up on red underwear! During the holidays, red underwear is sold at most stores and street markets. Wearing red scares off misfortune and underwear is a popular way to discreetly sneak in some red. If you're a monkey, be extra careful with dishes and don't use knives or scissors. A broken dish brings bad luck, and sharp scissors and knives will “cut” your fortune.
For those looking to join in the celebrations here in the states, there are plenty of opportunities to participate. New York City, home to the largest Chinese population in the US, has numerous parades and festivals during the celebrations including performances, decorations, and street vendors, as well as a firecracker ceremony and a Chinese New Year flower market. Similarly, San Francisco puts on quite the show. The largest Chinatown in the US is in San Francisco so parades and festivals are frequent during the Spring Festival including their enormous golden dragon they march down the street. It's over 250 feet long and takes 100 people to move. If your city isn't putting on a major festival, you can celebrate on your own too. Make your own red lanterns like the ones here and cook traditional Chinese New Year food with help from these recipes. In honor of the Chinese New Year, we’re offering our adorable monkey wine stopper at 30% off to bring good luck to you in the New Year!
The Chinese New Year holiday is a celebratory and time-honored tradition focusing on family and well-wishes for the year to come. So hang some red lanterns, stock up on red underwear, gather your family and friends, and make the year of the monkey prosperous for all.