Chinese New Year: Is It the Year of the Sheep or the Goat?

In the months after the Western New Year on Jan. 1, China and other East Asian countries celebrate the Lunar New Year and Spring Festivals. The holiday is marked with 15 days of festivities.

For Szu-Yu Chen, who teaches Chinese at McDaniel, the first things that come to mind when she thinks of the Lunar New Year are food and family. The same is true for Qin Fang, a professor in the history department.

“Most of the time is family reunion,” said Fang, who described how the Internet makes it much easier to connect with her family, since she cannot go to China.

Other traditions of the Lunar New Year include wearing new clothes into the new year (usually red), senior members of the family giving money to younger members in lucky red envelopes or bags, and lion or dragon dances, all during the Spring Festivals.

Fang says, “They … have the performance in public, like in the shopping mall. I think it’s like you’re doing with those carol songs during Christmas.”

“You basically go anywhere and you see people celebrating,” Chen says. “It’s usually a lot of red.”

The red theme of the Lunar New Year is associated with luck. However, in the story of the origin of the celebration, it served a much greater purpose: scaring away evil spirits believed to eat children at the beginning of the year. Wearing the color red and making noise scared the spirits away, which is where the firecrackers come from.

Spring Festivals are also held in the United States by Chinese and other East-Asian communities.

These celebrations also signify the beginning of another year of the Chinese zodiac. On Feb. 19, the world went from the year of the horse to the year of the sheep. Or is it the year of the goat?

In Chinese, the word “yáng” is used to describe the next zodiac sign. However,”yáng” means both sheep and goat. For the Chinese, this isn’t a problem. For native English speakers, the debate about which animal is truly meant is still ongoing.

If anything about the Lunar New Year sounds familiar to you, that’s probably because many of the core values are similar to other popular American holidays.

Chen says, “[The Lunar New Year] is like a Christmas or Thanksgiving for the Americans, I think. It’s basically a time you spend with your family, and for people working in different cities in Taiwan, they have to book tickets way in advance or they won’t be able to get them.”

Fang agrees: “We celebrate the holidays differently, but the reasons they’re celebrated are very similar.”


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