February 7th marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year 4,706 - The year of the Rat. The fifteen-day long celebration that starts on the eve of the New Year, is the most important holiday for the Chinese people.
During the fifteen days, families get together, eat lots of good food, celebrate with fireworks and generally have a good time. Like most festivals the Chinese New Year has a lot of legends and traditions that are associated with it.
One of them is naming each year after a different animal (a cycle that lasts 12 years and is then repeated). Legend has it that when Buddha (the founder of the religion Buddhism), was alive, he called all the animals to celebrate the New Year with him - twelve came. He named a year after each one and said the people born in that year, would have some of the traits of that particular animal. People born in the year of the Rat are said to be charming, passionate, hardworking and practical.
Another tradition is the color red, which is considered very auspicious (lucky) among the Chinese people. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend can ward off evil spirits and bad luck. Accordingly, on New Years Day people wear red clothes, decorate with poems on red paper and give children red envelopes with money.
The Grande Finale of the Chinese New Year is the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day. People hang Lanterns in temples (place where they pray) and also carry them in an evening parade under a full moon. The highlight of the Lantern Festival is the dragon dance. Dragon's made out of silk, paper and bamboo are held up by men, who dance and guide the colorful animal through the streets.
While Chinese New Year is the more popular one, today is also "Tet" - the Vietnamese New Year, which follows the same lunar calendar. While a lot of traditions are similar, Tet celebrations last for only seven days.
And finally on this great day - Gung Hai Fat Choy to all of you! (may you become prosperous!) and a very Happy Year of the Rat!