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Chinese New Year 2013: Year of the Snake

The Year of the Snake begins on February 10, 2013 and will last until January 30th, 2014. As we phase out of the fifth sign of the zodiac, the Dragon, and enter the Year of the Snake, there are some things you may like to know about what lies ahead. The Snake is the sixth year of the Chinese zodiac, which consists of twelve years (and twelve different animals) total. Contrary to Western stereotypes about snakes being a fearful animal, Chinese folklore looks upon snakes as lucky.

Ancient Chinese wisdom went so far as to believe that finding a snake in your home was a good omen, and meant your family would be well-fed and prosperous. In fact, during certain Chinese spring festivals, people like to paste the paper-cut 'Fu' character, which means happiness, and combine it with a snake twisting around a rabbit onto their doors. This popular pattern is a sign of abundance and wealth in the year ahead.

The Chinese zodiac is known as Shen Xiao in Chinese, and is based on a twelve-year cycle. A different animal represents each year in the zodiac cycle. The Chinese zodiac is dictated by the Chinese calendar, which incorporates both a lunar and solar calendar and dates back at least as long as the Shang Dynasty in the late second millennium B.C. Some of the first pieces of evidence of the Chinese calendar are etchings found on oracle bones from the Shang Dynasty.

However, the selection of the twelve animals that correlate with the twelve-year cycle is thought to have been developed in the Han Dynasty (206-220 BC). The twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac include the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Each animal is thought to have a different personality, with different attributes. The animal’s qualities affect those born during that year, and can even affect the events of the year. The animal year when a person is born is called his or her Benming Nian.

For example, people born during a Year of the Snake are thought to be charming, passionate, mysterious, cunning, acutely aware of their surroundings, and proud. Those born in the Year of the Snake are attractive people with a strong head on their shoulders. They stay calm in a crisis and aren’t easily unsettled. These people are graceful, classy, and often exciting to be around. However, they also have a dark side and can be secretive. Additionally, Snake people can become bored easily, and may switch jobs often. Those born in the Year of the Snake enjoy the finer things in life—they are intellectuals who love to read, have a passion for music and fine food, and enjoy the theater. Snakes are hard workers. They are diligent, organized, and have great follow-through on projects. They often like to work alone—don’t take this personally! They’re just extremely focused.

No matter which animal the year falls on, the Chinese New Year is taken seriously and is a huge celebration in China to this day. Every year, the festivities are kicked off with a thorough cleaning. The Chinese believe that all negativity, bad luck, and experiences of the past year should literally be swept out of the house to make way for the New Year. This should be done before the holiday starts, so spend your last days in the Year of the Dragon with a broom! Once everything is spick and span, it’s time to decorate.

In Chinese culture, red is considered a lucky color. For the New Year, doors and windows are often painted or covered in the color red. Red paper decorations are hung up, and children are often given small gifts in red envelopes. There are many deities in Chinese culture, and it’s considered important to honor them, as well as your ancestors, especially at the time of the New Year. The Kitchen God is a deity that is often given special attention at this time. Many Chinese homes have a picture or emblem of the Kitchen God in the kitchen. Before the New Year starts, try giving him a token of your appreciation so he will give a good report of your family’s behavior from the past year. Try offering him some honey or making a traditional Chinese sticky cake (Nian Gao).

Perhaps the most important (and meaningful) of the typical celebrations for Chinese New Year is to gather all your family and friends together for the eve of the New Year. Chinese families often spend this time preparing Chinese dumplings together (known as Jiaozi). Sometimes, a coin is hidden in one of the dumplings. The one who finds it will be lucky throughout the year! Check out a recipe to make your own traditional Chinese dumplings here: http://chinesefood.about.com/od/dimsumdumplings/r/jiaozi.htm

Another traditional dish to serve at your celebration is known as a Tray of Togetherness. While you have all your loved ones in one spot, give them this compilation of symbolic foods thought to bring good fortune. A Tray of Togetherness is a circular teak or wood tray with eight (a lucky number in Chinese lore) different compartments for food such as lychee nuts, lotus seed, coconut, water chestnut, carrot, and tangerine. Whatever you do this Chinese New Year, be sure to spend time with family and friends!

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