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The Chinese New Year does not quite coincide with that celebrated throughout the rest of the world as it works on a combination of the lunar and solar calendars along with additional factors like the elements and colours.

The brown earth dog year begins on Friday 16th February and continues for 23 days during which the whole of China ceases major productivity almost two weeks before the beginning of the observance and it is a National Holiday across China and in a great number of other countries who also celebrate the lunar spring festival. Businesses MUST pay all their bills and staff up before the start of the holiday and many will work additional shifts on the run up to the spring festival to enable them to take the time off to be with family and friends.

On the eve of the festival like our own new year celebrations they clean house to clear out the dirt which holds onto the bad luck from the previous year. Even sweeping brushes, vacuum cleaners and dust pans are stored away so as not to impact on the newly arrived luck. Another strange one (imho) is that hair cutting over the New Year period is frowned upon as it is considered to bring bad luck on the household.

The greatest theme of the Spring Festival is celebration of the family and the biggest migration of people takes place when the ones who have been working away return home with their hard-earned money in time for the reunion dinner. A staggering 1 billion people are known to celebrate the Chinese New Year and in 2014, railways reported 270 million passengers using the rail network on the days leading up to the holiday.

The Chinese even have unlucky days like 3rd or 17th but one of the unluckiest of all is the double 10 like the 10th October (10/10) but they also have lucky numbers and the best of all is the number 9.

Other well known symbols are:

Jade - protection, health and strength

Eggs – tranquillity, fertility and good luck

A beaded man – longevity or success

A lady bearing fruit - prosperity

Lanterns - promotion

Fish – surplus, plentiful

The Chinese year of the Dog is said to be a good year for saving or accumulating wealth.

They lavishly decorate homes with red lanterns and children receive prettily decorated red envelopes containing lucky money and the real must have is FIREWORKS. The theme common to most homes across China appears to be red. With some repainting the exterior of their houses with an additional coat of red paint or hanging of scrolls, fish shaped paper decorations and such with red lanterns hung outside and inside the homes alongside Chinese knots. There are also communal events like puppet shows and of course the traditional lion and dragon dancing in their highly decorated costumes.

Fireworks and firecrackers have been used to ward off evil spirits but due to the dangerous levels of air pollution over 130 cities have been banned from using them altogether whereas over 500 cities across China have some restrictions in place so some can still continue to enjoy them within these guidelines.

The origins of burning fireworks started back at the time of the Han Dynasty between 206BC and 220CE when the people burned sticks of bamboo which popped loudly thus frightening off the evil spirits which over the years were developed into bunches which became firecrackers.

As midnight approaches on the eve of the New Year, several hundred tons of pyro is being lit across the length and breadth of the country ranging from a couple of chains of firecrackers to a full on pyrotechnic display. The legend is that a monster called Nian came to eat villages and destroy their homes and livestock but the burning bamboo frightened him off and the legend continues to this day.

Here in the UK several thousand Chinese descend on London to celebrate the New Year annually and we get a small taste of the joy and happiness shared across the globe.

Gong Xi Fa Cai

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