Welcome, Year of the Wood Horse!

By Pacific College - April 26, 2015

The Year of the Horse has arrived! On January 31, 2014, the Chinese New Year celebration began, complete with gorgeous hanging lanterns, traditional lion dances, and incredible firecrackers. In essence, Chinese New Year is about spending time with family, gift-giving, and the much-anticipated holiday feast.

Legends Behind Chinese New Year

The history of Chinese New Year spurs from legends that have been passed down over centuries about a mythical lion-like beast that preyed on villagers. This beast was known as “Nian,” which in Chinese is translated to “year.” Legend has it that a wise man told the villagers that the only way to conquer the evil Nian was to make loud noises with drums and firecrackers and hang red paper cutouts and scrolls on their doors as Nian was scared of the color red. The villagers did just as the wise man said and the beast was defeated. Each year, the Chinese celebrate the passing of the Nian and welcome a new beginning. It’s because of this myth that the color red and fireworks are still widely used as traditional New Year’s décor.

The Chinese Lunar New Year is the longest chronological record in history. The beginning of each year is determined by the cycles of the moon, thus the beginning of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. It takes 60 years to complete a full cycle, and each cycle is broken up into five smaller cycles of 12 years each.

Zodiac Animals and Their Influence

Each of the 12 years is named after a specific animal. According to ancient myth, Lord Buddha summoned all the animals of the world to come and bid him farewell before he left earth. Only twelve animals came, so he named a year after each one as a reward. The Chinese believe that the animal ruling each specific year has a profound influence on the personality of those born in that year.

2014 marks the Year of the Horse, the sixth animal in the 12-year cycle. People born in 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, and 2014 are Horses. According to the Chinese Zodiac, Horses are excellent communicators and it is often left up to them to communicate an issue within their community. They are natural mediators, and they enjoy being in the limelight. It’s important for those under this zodiac sign to develop a way to express themselves, whether it’s a form of art, writing, or speech. Horses love their freedom and self-expression.

The Social and Cultural Impact of the Horse in Chinese Tradition

Horses are kind by nature, clever, cheerful, and talkative. Because the horse is associated with the Earth element, people born under this sign can also be stubborn. Horse people enjoy the finer things in life and must work harder than most to save money and avoid being wasteful. Despite this, Horse people are often associated with luck and are thought to lead charmed lives. With their sunny outlook and vivacious personality, Horses are loved by many and are often the life of the party. The horse has been venerated in China because important battles were won due to the power of the horse.

The year of the Horse also symbolizes the seventh earthly branch in Chinese medicine and is associated with June, the fifth lunar month—and the sign of Gemini, the Horse’s Western astrological counterpart. According to Chinese astrology, Horse years are considered fortunate and active. Chinese astrologers anticipate big changes around the world in 2014, from the appearance of innovative new ideas to changes in policy or lifestyle norms.

Traditions and Customs of Chinese New Year

However, in China, people don’t just celebrate the New Year if it pertains to their zodiac animal—the Chinese New Year is a major public holiday, and its traditions trace back more than 4,000 years. There is much preparation that goes into this celebration each year. Cleaning house is one of the most customary ways to ring in the New Year. The Chinese believe a thorough house cleaning (including repainting doors and window panes) will sweep away any traces of bad luck that may have accumulated over the past year. After the cleaning, people will decorate the house to welcome new beginnings. The majority of the New Year decorations are red and the most popular decorations are upside down fu, dui lian, lanterns, year paint, and papercutting.

In addition to good luck and fresh starts, the Chinese New Year is a time to be with family and friends (another reason to clean the home before the guests arrive!). The Chinese New Year is about reconciliation. Making peace and casting aside old grudges is paramount to beginning anew. The New Year is considered the ideal time to dismiss resentment and feelings of ill will.

Families unite over dinner, which is usually a feast of seafood and dumplings, signifying various good wishes. Some of the delicacies include prawns for happiness and fish dishes to bring good luck and prosperity. After the New Year’s Eve stroke of midnight, fireworks are launched to celebrate the coming New Year. Like the color red, fireworks are also a symbol of driving away evil, traced back to the legend of “Nian.” It is believed that the person who launches the first fireworks will have good luck.

Regardless of how each person honors and celebrates the New Year, the goal is unanimous: to have a fortuitous and happy year. The Chinese New Year is truly an illumination of the rich traditions and values of Chinese culture. Now it is time to honor the past and ring in the Year of the Horse. Gung Hay Fat Choy! Best wishes and congratulations! Have a prosperous and good year!

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