Ushering in the year of the Pig

There are several ways to say it, but few people who understand it. “Xin Nian Hao” or “Guo Nian Hao” is how Chinese greet each other to say “Happy New Year.” For most Americans, the

There are several ways to say it, but few people who understand it. “Xin Nian Hao” or “Guo Nian Hao” is how Chinese greet each other to say “Happy New Year.”

For most Americans, the Jan. 1st New Year’s Day celebration is a distant memory. But for the Chinese-American public, thoughts and events of the New Year are just beginning.

This year is the Year of the Pig (or boar) and begins on Feb. 18th. It is known as the first day of the lunar calendar (New Moon) and ends 15 days later with the Lantern Festival on March 4th, although festivities take place for more than one month.

The History

New Year’s is the first day of spring for China. Days before the New Year, families clean the house in hopes of sweeping away all ill-fortune while leaving room for the new. On New Year’s Eve, the Chinese “Kitchen God” is welcomed back from heaven with firecrackers and offerings.

Doors are covered with red paper decorations and scrolls inscribed with Chinese symbols for “happiness” or “longevity.”

Families are on their best behavior and celebrate the holiday with a great feast.

To avoid bad energy on the New Year, the Chinese refrain from cursing, lying or breaking anything. Then, on the stroke of midnight, every door and window in the home is opened to allow the old year to exit.

In Chinatown, dragon parades are held every Sunday during the month-long celebration.

Many of the customs for this holiday stem from a tradition of Nian, a monster that according to Chinese folklore preyed on people on New Year’s Eve.

The story teaches that the old man who conquered Nian told the public to put up red paper decorations to scare the monster away. Today, the Chinese continue to decorate their doors red and make paper lanterns for the holiday.

New Year Wishes

Red and gold are the two predominant colors for the Chinese New Year. Red symbolizes happiness, while gold symbolizes wealth, and orange fruit can also symbolize wealth.

Red is the color of the lucky envelopes, called laisee, which children receive with cash inside. The sums of cash are always even amounts for luck.

However, Chinese New Year has a purpose other than luck. It’s a celebration to wish peace and prosperity on friends and family, brushing aside old grudges and paying debts. It is a time to visit friends and family while bearing gifts and wearing new clothes to show off last year’s prosperity. Following tradition, the Chinese typically celebrate New Year’s Day like they would a birthday. They feast on noodles and pork dumplings called “jiaozi” well into the night. Noodles provide good health, while a Chinese coin is hidden in one of the dumplings, and whoever finds it receives good luck for the incoming year.

How to celebrate

The New Tang Dynasty Television’s Chinese New Year Spectacular at the Radio City Music Hall explores the positive traditions of Chinese culture and features elaborate costumes, beautiful choreography, Chinese instruments in the Tianyin Orchestra and a historical story based on warriors and dynasties past.

The Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company will perform at the Victoria Theater of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. Order now, because only a few tickets remain for the Sunday performance.

The Lantern Festival on March 4th celebrates the end of the New Year season. In Philadelphia’s Chinatown, expect to see lantern displays and a children’s lantern parade. There will be dancing and plenty of sweet dumplings.

Stop into the Independence Seaport Museum for a family oriented day of Chinese New Year education and cultural activities. Kids can make Chinese lanterns, design their own dragonhead, learn about tea customs and have their name printed on calligraphy. Both NBC 10 News Anchor Aditi Roy and the Radio Disney Party Patrol will be in attendance at this Feb. 24 event.

At the Garden State Discovery Museum, families can see Gold Metal Family karate demos; a giant Chinese yo-yo and the Jade River Dancers perform traditional Chinese dances, including the Iron Fan Dance and the Spinning Handkerchief Dance.

The Chinese for Families school is sponsoring a tour of the Pu Men Buddhist Temple on Saturday, Feb. 24th. A Tibetan Lama will lead this tour of Philadelphia’s largest Buddhist Temple, along with education on New Year’s activities and the Buddhist religion. This event is part of two. The following activity is a multi-course Buddhist feast at the Singapore Vegetarian Restaurant.

Anne Martin-Montgomery is the founder of Chinese For Families and the director of the Philadelphia Branch. She mentioned that this is the first time they are doing the program but felt is was valueable for children of all backgrounds “to experience Chinese culture that they may not have access to. We want to create a Chinese New Year’s party that teaches substance to young children.”

University City’s International House hosts the 6th Annual Chinese New Year Celebration, featuring performances by the Mei Mei Dancers, the Holy Redeemer School and Penn Yo. The celebration is followed by a showing of the 1994 film “Double Happiness,” starring Grey’s Anatomy’s Sandra Oh as a 22-year old struggling to balance Western culture with the traditional expectations of her Chinese family.

Colleen Dunn can be reached at

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