In September, 1975, I began my study of Chinese Martial Arts and Chinese culture. My first Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival (Chūnjié 春节) celebration is still very clear in my memories. It was the Year of the Dragon and my teacher, Master Chan, took us to Chinatown, Boston where we walked the crowded streets performing traditional Chinese Lion Dance and music.
It was Loud! It was Colorful!! It was Exciting!!!
I was Hooked! Over the last four decades, I’ve been very lucky to have been able to study many aspects of this ancient culture from my masters and my personal experiences traveling through China.
Although Chinese New Year has been practiced in the United States since the 1860’s, and many non-Asians are becoming increasingly curious about Chinese culture, many Americans still don’t no much about this holiday. Over the past thirty years that I’ve been teaching, my students have asked me to answer a myriad of questions. So, I will try to answer a few today.
What is the order of the Chinese Zodiac Animals?
1. The Mouse, 2. The Ox, 3. The Tiger, 4. The Rabbit, 5. The Dragon, 6. The Snake, 7. The Horse, 8. The Sheep, 9. The Monkey, 10. The Rooster, 11. The Dog and
12. The Pig
2020 is the Year of the Mouse, which is the first of all Chinese zodiac animal signs. Why first? According to the myth, the Jade Emperor said that he would decide the order of the zodiac animals by the order in which they arrived to his party. The Mouse tricked the Ox into giving him a ride. Then, just as they arrived at the finish line, Mouse jumped down and landed ahead of Ox, winning first place!
What is Lucky Money?
Hóng Bāo (红包), or Red Envelope is known as “Lucky Money” or “New Year’s Money.” This tradition began in the Han Dynasty, when the lucky money was small coins used to ward off bad luck.
Still today, parents and grandparents give Lucky Money to children, hoping to help pass on a year of good fortune. A different version is given by young people to seniors as a gesture of gratitude and a wish of a long life.
The polite way for young people to ask for Lucky Money is to Kowtow (bow) and say:
Gong Xǐ Fā Cái 恭喜发财,
Hóng Bāo Ná Lái 红包拿来.
Which literally means:
“Congratulations on getting rich,
Here comes the red envelope!!!”
Why is Chinese New Year celebrated by lighting firecrackers?
Originally, firecrackers were used to scare off a legendary monster named “Nian”, which is the same word for “year” (年). As the legend goes, Nian would destroy homes every New Year’s Eve. One year, some of the villagers luckily discovered that burning bamboo produced loud explosive sounds that scared away the monster. Today, we set off fireworks during the New Year festival to express our happiness and excitement.
Why is Chinese New Year celebrated with the Lion Dance?
Throughout Southeast Asia, the colorful and dramatic Lion Dance is one of the most important traditions of the New Year celebration. In ancient times, it was originally performed as a means to chase away evil spirits and welcome prosperity. Like the use of firecrackers, the Lion Dance is still performed in modern times as a gesture of good luck and to heighten the festive atmosphere.
Why is “Good Fortune” 福 written upside-down?
In the Ming dynasty, the Emperor ordered all entrances to be decorated by posting the character “Fu” on everyone’s door. He sent his soldiers to inspect and they noticed that one family who were illiterate pasted the word upside down by mistake.
Angrily the Emperor ordered the family to be punished. But, the Empress explained to him that “upside-down” or Dào 倒 in Chinese is a homophone of “here” or Dào 到. When it’s upside-down, it means “Fu is Here”, or “Happiness Has Arrived”!
This made sense to the Emperor and he released the family. Since that day, everyone has pasted the word Fu upside down on their doors as a symbol of Happiness and of the Kindness of the Ming Empress.
Hope you enjoy your Lunar New Year!
Gong Xǐ Fā Cái!
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Author: Stan Tabor
Stan Tabor is a 6th-degree black belt and has been training in martial arts since 1972. He is the founder of the Life Skill curriculum and association. His goal is to build a future for the next generation of the Life Skill Instructors to use martial arts as a vehicle to teach life skills that develop children physically, mentally, emotionally and socially.
Welcome to Life Skill Martial Arts! Conveniently located in Millbury Massachusetts, Life Skill Martial Arts provides high quality martial arts training classes to the residents of Millbury , Worcester , Grafton , Shrewsbury, Auburn and the surrounding areas, including Sutton , Uxbridge , and Northbridge. We have a few simple goals here. However, we put 110% of our effort into achieving them. Life Skill Martial Arts Millbury helps children to build these good habits that extend to success at home and school everyday. In short, these goals have but one purpose: Provide classes that are results-driven, while at the same time fun!
Life Skill Martial Arts is NOT just another Karate School! We teach Personal Development to children using martial arts as a vehicle. Our goal is to instill the habits and skills of: Discipline – Belief – Communication – Respect – Self Esteem – Honesty.
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