On February 3, 2011, the Chinese Lunar Year 4709 will begin. We will be moving from 'The Year of the Tiger' to 'The Year of the Rabbit'. Not only is Chinese New Year celebrated in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau, but also in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, and other places with large Chinese populations. The Chinese New Year holiday lasts more than a week, with the number of days varying based on local customs. It is the longest and most important holiday celebration for the Chinese.
In preparation for the new year, families typically pay off their debts, clean their house, shop for new clothes and other items, and prepare special foods for the holidays. Those who live away from their families often travel home during this time of the year.
One of the most important events during the holiday is the Reunion Dinner which takes place on the eve of the Lunar New Year. Typically families gather together in a home or restaurant to have a big feast. In my family, we usually have Steamboat, which is a type of communal cooking. Families eat foods which have auspicious symbolic meaning (often because the Chinese word for the food is a homophone for something favorable). For example: chicken for happy marriage, seaweed moss for prosperity, leeks for longevity, eggs for fertility, Mandarin Oranges for luck. At midnight, we set off firecrackers, to scare away evil spirits. Some family members go to the Buddhist temple to pray and bring back burning incense for luck.
On day one of the new year, we wear our new clothes and pay respects to our parents or elders. The elders give the youngsters 'Red Packets' or 'Hong Pao' containing cash. It is important to wear the color red, to represent good luck on the first day of the year. The old people usually stay in their homes, and the young people visit their relatives and good family friends - where the children receive more red packets.
Superstition dictates many behaviors during Chinese New Year. In addition to the use of fireworks to scare off bad spirits, people must avoid negative words and actions (which can bring bad luck). We don't touch brooms (which sweep away good luck) or knives (which can cut off good fortune). If somebody cries on the first day of the year, then they will cry all year long. I liked Chinese New Year in my younger days because parents were on their best behavior, and they did not scold or hit their children
On the third day, families gather together and gamble, playing cards or Mah Jong with real money. In most Asian countries, many restaurants and stores resume their business after the fourth or fifth day of the new year. Some businesses may take extended holidays as long as eight or nine days.
Now that I live in the USA, away from my family, I usually go to a casino during Chinese New Year. Since Asians tend to be serious gamblers, casinos often have special events or Lion Dances. This year I am going to Las Vegas.