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January 21, 2009 > A new year - Chinese style

A new year - Chinese style

Year of the Ox

The Chinese Year of the Ox, Lunar Year 4707, begins on Jan 26, 2009 with the appearance of the new moon. As in many parts of Asia, Tri-City residents will celebrate by exchanging greetings and gifts with friends, sitting down to meals with special dishes and watching Lion dancers greet the New Year. The Chinese calendar dates back centuries before the Julian calendar and measures time based on astronomical observations of the movement of the sun, moon and stars.

Celebrations are based on Emperor Han Wu Di's almanac using the first day of the first month of the lunar year as the start of the Chinese New Year. Using the lunar cycle and the solar year, the New Year begins on the second new moon after the winter solstice. This means that when the sun has reached it lowest point of the year (winter solstice) in the northern hemisphere (the opposite is true in the southern hemisphere), usually Dec. 21 or 22, the second new moon can arrive anywhere from 30 to 59 days later.

Each year of a 12-year cycle is symbolized by an animal. Legend says that Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to gather with him before he left the earth. Only 12 answered the call and as a reward, he named a year after each one in the order of their arrival. The Chinese believe that the animal ruling the year of your birth has a profound influence on your personality. This year's symbol of the Ox signifies hard workers who are conservative and steady. The English translation of the lunar zodiac symbols are: Rat; Ox; Tiger; Hare; Dragon; Snake; Horse; Sheep; Monkey; Rooster; Dog and Pig. Korean and Japanese zodiac symbols are the same but Vietnamese calendars replace the rabbit symbol with cat and sheep with boar.

Legend tells of a village in China, thousands of years ago, that was ravaged by an evil monster one winter's eve. The following year, it returned again. Before this could happen a third time, the villagers devised a plan to scare the monster away. Red banners were hung everywhere; the color red has long been believed to protect against evil. Firecrackers, drums and gongs were used to create loud noises to scare the beast away. The plan worked and the celebration lasted for days.

Dragons are a dominant image in Chinese culture, revered for their goodness, vigilance, fertility, poise, and supernatural powers. The Chinese believe they are descendants of this incredible creature and so honor him in their customs and traditions. The dragon dance is a staple of celebrations and serves as a demonstration of gratitude for the dragon. Constructed of silk, paper, and bamboo and carried aloft on poles, dragons come alive to the traditional music of drums, cymbals, and gongs. This colorful, exciting dance symbolizes the wish for good luck and success in the New Year. It is believed that the longer the dragon, the more luck will be brought to society.

Celebrations are both literal and symbolic. Spring cleaning begins a month prior to the New Year and must be completed prior to the celebration. New Year is a time for peace and courteous behavior since mean spirited actions invite an unlucky year. Outstanding debts are settled prior to entering the New Year and many follow the tradition of giving red packets called "lai see" to children and friends with an even number of crisp new bills enclosed. New Year celebrations focus on starting out fresh.

Food carries a great deal of importance to the New Year and is plentiful throughout the celebration. Traditional dishes carry old Chinese beliefs and symbolize good wishes for those gathered. A whole fish represents abundance and togetherness, a chicken completely intact symbolizes prosperity, and noodles remain uncut as a representation of long life. The Chinese New Year Cake is a sticky steamed cake made with glutinous rice flour and dried fruit. This cake is an offering to the Kitchen God who is a deity sent to every house to take care of family affairs. The Kitchen God reports to Heaven annually on the family's behavior in the past year, and if he intends an unfavorable report, the sticky cake ensures that this mouth will remain shut.

Asian markets and store counters are laden with festive sweet wines, candied fruits and nuts and other specialties for parties and visits held mostly in the home. Bright red colors symbolize prosperity in life and small plants related to bamboo, known as the "fortune plant," are plentiful. Symbolic holiday foods ensure a fortuitous year as well. Typically, red meat is not served and chipped or broken plates are avoided. Fish is eaten to ensure long life and good fortune. Red dates bring hope for prosperity, melon seeds for proliferation and lotus seeds mean the family will prosper through time. Oranges and tangerines symbolize wealth and good fortune. Nian gao, the New Year's Cake, is always served. It is believed that the higher the cake rises, the better the year will be. A "prosperity tray" of eight sides is served to guests filled with symbolic foods.

Each year China Chili, a Fremont restaurant, helps Tri-City residents celebrate the New Year with a special dinner, a Lion Dance and martial arts demonstrations. This year there will be two seatings - 4:45 p.m. & 7 p.m. - for this special dinner on Saturday, Feb. 28. Lions will wind their way through the dining room, so don't forget to bring a token payment to show your appreciation. This tradition is fun for the whole family and quickly sells out, so make sure to make reservations call (510) 791-1688 early.

For those who would like to pair celebration with supporting a worthy cause, join the FUN Rotary Club at the Mayflower Seafood Restaurant in Union City for a Chinese New Year Celebration Banquet on Saturday, February 7. Proceeds will be used to support relief efforts of the China Sichuan Earthquake Fund, Union City 50th Anniversary and the Rotary Foundation.

Chinese New Year is a rich tapestry of ancient beliefs and heartfelt celebration, looking to the promise of new life, and wishing all people peace, prosperity and happiness. Here's to the ox!

Gung Hey Fat Choy
"Wishing You Prosperity and Wealth"

Chinese New Year Celebrations

Saturday, January 24
Chinese New Year Celebration
1 p.m. - 4 p.m.
Union City Library
34007 Alvarado-Niles Rd., Union City
(510) 745-1464

Saturday, January 24
Chinese New Year Crafts for Children
2 p.m. - 3 p.m.
Castro Valley Library
20055 Redwood Rd., Castro Valley
(510) 670-6280

Tuesday, January 27
Chinese New Year Crafts
3:30 p.m.
Hayward Library
835 C Street, Hayward
(510) 881-7945

Thursday, Jan 29
Celebrate Chinese New Year
7 p.m.
Milpitas Community Library
160 North Main St., Milpitas
(408) 262-1171

Saturday, February 14
Chinese New Year Celebration
1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Fremont Main Library
2400 Stevenson Blvd., Fremont
(510) 745-1400

Saturday, February 7
Chinese New Year Celebration Banquet
6 p.m.
Mayflower Seafood Restaurant
34348 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City
Elaine Wong-Bigel (510) 381-9989 or Larry Tan (408) 898-6268
$65 per person/$550 per table of 10

Sunday, February 8
Lunar New Year Celebration
Union City Sports Center
31224 Union City Blvd., Union City
Adult: $5
Age 10 and under: $2

Chinese New Year Celebration
Saturday, February 28
4:45 p.m. and 7 p.m.
China Chili Restaurant
39116 State Street, Fremont
(510) 791-1688

Manager Yvonne Lee invites everyone to celebrate Valentines Day at China Chili on Saturday, Feb. 14. "Just as Chinese New Year celebrates love for our families and ancestors, Valentine's Day is also a celebration of loved ones. Join us on both days to combine two rich traditions and cultures."

Chinese Zodiac Symbols (Vietnamese), birth year and characteristics are listed below. The Chinese believe this is "the animal that hides in your heart." Which one are you?

1924, '36, '48, '60, '72, '84, '96, '08
Charming, Imaginative, Generous and Dynamic

Ox (Buffalo)
1925, '37, '49, '61, '73, '85, '98, '09
Confident, Conservative, Steady with Patient Strength

1926, '38, '50, '62, '74, '86, '98, '10
Sensitive, Emotional, Loving, Flexible and Adapts Readily

Rabbit (Cat)
1927, '39, '51, '63, '75, '87, '99, '11
Affectionate, Sentimental, Pleasant, Talented and Ambitious

1928, '40, '52, '64, '76, '88, '00, '12
Enthusiastic, Intelligent, Gifted, Sincere and Energetic

1929, '41, '53, '65, '77, '89, '01, '13
Charming, Romantic, Intuitive, Calm, Gentle and Compassionate

1930, '42, '54, '66, '78, '90, '02, '14
Hard-working, Independent, Cunning, Popular and Generous

Sheep (Goat)
1931, '43, '55, '67, '79, '91, '03, '15
Elegant, Artistic, Pessimistic, Shy and Compassionate

1932, '44, '56, '68, '80, '92, '04, '16
Intelligent, Clever, Loyal, Cheerful and Skillful

1933, '45, '57, '69, '81, '93, '05, '17
Hard-worker, Shrewd, Definite, Profound Thinker

1934, '46, '58, '70, '82, '94, '06, '18
Honest, Faithful, Worrier, Loyal and Protective

1935, '47, '59, '71, '83, '95, '07, '19
Sincere, Tolerant, Honest and Courageous

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