The Year of the Red Fire Monkey is coming in hot, so you better be prepared, especially for those of you born in Wood or Water signs.
Not sure what I mean? February 8th marks the start of Lunar New Year, with 2016 falling on the Year of the Monkey. So, when someone asks you "What's Your Sign?" they aren't looking for Sagittarius or Scorpio. For many Asian cultures, including Chinese and my own Vietnamese heritage, celebrating the Lunar New Year is vastly more important than January 1st.
Here's the lowdown on what you need to know about celebrating the Lunar New Year...
Your Sign Signifies The Type of Year You Will Have
Rather than determine your astrological sign based on the month and day you were born, people are categorized using 12 animals based on the year they were born, and the animal repeats every 12 years. Depending on the year you are born, you are also assigned an element – water, wood, metal (such as gold), fire, or earth.
For Chinese astrology, the animals are:
- Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig
In Vietnamese astrology, there are slight variations to the animals above:
- Rat, Buffalo, Tiger, Cat, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig
This year, it’s a Fire year and it falls on the astrological calendar as being the Year of the Monkey – thus, the Fire Monkey!
How Do You Say "Happy New Year"?
In Mandarin, the saying is: XIN NIN KUAI LE!
For Cantonese speakers, it’s “GONG HAY FAT CHOY!”
For Vietnamese, it’s “CHUC MUNG NAM MOI”
Bless Your Elders for Lucky Money
Dollars make you holla… but in this case, you only get those crisp dollar bills after you make blessing to your elders and loved ones. Blessings include a year of good fortune, good health, happiness, wealth, and all the good stuff that money can’t buy. Then in turn, your elders will hand you a coveted little red monkey packet with “lucky money” – a sight that is almost synonymous with Lunar New Year.
Put On Your New Year's Best
Whether it’s a traditional Chinese qi pao or the Vietnamese ao dai, the New Year is the time to ring in a time of good fortune wearing your best outfit. It’s not just about nails did, hair did, everything done – you’ve got to get the right outfit as well. This is also a time of celebration and honouring of your ancestors, so you may see people don outfits honouring centuries’ old emperors or mythical beings from folklore.
Bring Dollars or Oranges for the Lion
You’re probably familiar with the Lion Dance, where two dancers don a lion outfit (one person handling the head and the other as the body) and mimic the animal’s movement, all while playing to the crowd asking for lucky clementines or dollar bills. This is often confused with the “dragon dance” which features more than two people holding the body of a dragon which snakes its way through the crowd.
In Vietnamese culture, there is an additional dance partner during the performance, “Ong Dia” or the spirit of the Earth, who summons the lion and then clears the path for the lion. Japan, Indonesia, and Korea all have their own version of the Chinese Lion Dance as well.
Lunar New Year Traditions
Red lanterns, money trees, piles of oranges, lucky envelopes, chrysanthemums, firecrackers – the sights, smells, and sounds of the Lunar New Year are very much decked out in all things red and yellow. Some different traditions for the New Year include:
- On the evening of the New Year, an altar inviting your ancestors and family members who have passed on to come back and celebrate the coming of New Year. Traditionally, altars are piled with food and incense is lit to bring on the coming dawn of a New Lunar Year.
- Traditionally, firecrackers are lit in front of homes the night before the new year in order to scare evil spirits away before the start of the New Year (much like we wear masks on All Hallow’s Eve to keep evil spirits away.).
- Cleaning out your house before the New Year but not cleaning on New Year’s Day because you could be sweeping out good fortune for the New Year.
- Speaking personally, in Vietnamese culture, it isn’t a Lunar New Year celebration without “banh chung” or the traditional Vietnamese rice cake filled with mung bean and pork. It is a time-honored tradition based on the story of Lang Lieu, the last king of the Sixth Hung Dynasty in Vietnam. The rice cakes are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed overnight to be enjoyed for the new year.