The Chinese Zodiac, known as Sheng Xiao, is based on a twelve-year cycle, each year that cycle is related to an animal sign.
So which year were you born in? The dog, the cat or maybe the Pig? Well, if it was the Monkey, 2016 is your year.
Its Chinese New Year, an important time for families. This celebration brings everyone together through the power of music, food and dragon dance.
According to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast who looked like an ox with a lion’s head and lived in the sea.
It was believed that at the night of New Year's Eve, the beast would come out to harm people, animals, and properties. It was soon discovered that the beast feared the colour red, fire, and loud noises. Therefore, for self-protection, people formed the habit of displaying red in front of their house as well as launching fireworks, and hanging lanterns.
This tradition has been continued to this day and has become an integral part of celebrating the arrival of the New Year.
We got the chance to speak to one of our Mandarin interpreters to give us an insight into this time of the year.
What does Chinese New Year mean to you?
Chinese New Year is the most important festival in China, just like
Christmas in the UK. It is all about family getting together and visiting relatives and friends. It is a good time to catch up with each other, have a good laugh, and most importantly to drink and eat great feasts every day for up to two weeks.
What is your favourite part of Chinese New Year?
Millions of people are moving at the same time to get home, you can imagine how busy it will be! Most families will watch the biggest annual national entertainment program with lots of celebrities, dancers and singers from different nationalities with beautiful traditional costumes whilst people are counting down to New Year.
What are the traditions around this time?
My parents still keep to the old ways of preparing food. A few days before New Year, they make stuffed buns to steam from scratch with fresh ingredients. We buy a large amount of vegetables and meats to cook main dishes, both cold and hot. The first feast together is called ‘union dinner’, this is the most important dinner of the year. Chicken and fish are very common on the table as they bring good luck whereas the most traditional drink is strong rice wine.
No presents are given between family members, instead we bring fruits, wine and boxed snacks. We don't buy presents for children either, alternatively we give lucky red envelope with money inside.
The celebration lasts from New Year Day for up to two weeks until lantern Festival which is the fifth day of the first lunar month. Parades including drums, folk dance and walking on stilts can sometimes be seen. In the countryside, we are still able to light fire racks, which are forbidden in the cities for safety reasons.
Vandu Language Services is based in Lewes, Sussex and has been helping organisations overcome the language barrier since 1999. We provide interpreting, translation, bilingual advocacy and cross cultural training for when you need to communicate clearly across cultures.