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Today, millions of Chinese people all over the world will celebrate the first day of the Chinese or Lunar New Year - the longest and most significant of all traditional Chinese Festivals. Also known as the Spring Festival, it is a four thousand year-old tradition that began as a way to mark the end of the dreary winter season and beginning of spring.
During the 15-day long event, people make a fresh start to their lives - by forgetting old grudges, spring cleaning their homes and businesses and revamping their wardrobes. Since the color red symbolizes fire and is believed to ward of bad luck and keep evil spirits at bay, it is the color of choice for clothing, as well as, lanterns and scrolls that adorn homes.
Another great custom is hanging chun lians or spring couplets that contain happy messages about the future. But best of all, is the tradition of elders giving the younger generations red envelopes, filled with money!
Of course, no celebration is complete without delicious food. Chinese New Year meals are delectable feasts, with each item signifying something special. Long uncut noodles represent a long life, while the whole chicken is a symbol of family togetherness. Dumplings (resemble ingots, an ancient Chinese currency) and spring rolls (which look like gold bars), represent wealth and prosperity.
The New Year celebrations end on the day of the full moon with a Lantern Festival. On this day, many people go the temple to hang lanterns and also, walk with them in a festive parade. The highlight of the celebrations is the dragon dance. Dragons made from silk, paper and bamboo are held up by men, who dance and guide the colorful animal through the streets.
Another age-old tradition is naming each year after a different animal (a cycle that repeats every 12 years). Legend has it, that when Lord Buddha was alive, he called all the animals to celebrate the New Year with him - Only 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.
2012, is the Year of the Dragon which includes anyone born in 1904, 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000 and 2012! People born under this animal sign are generous, hard-working, risk-takers and very imaginative.
Chinese people also believe that the animal has some influence on how the year will go for everyone. The Year of the Dragon, the only fictional animal in the Chinese zodiac is believed to be the most auspicious one of the 12-year cycle. Astrologers predict that 2012 will bring about many positive changes, as well as, economic prosperity throughout the world - But best of all, the world will not end!
Though called 'Chinese New Year', the day is also celebrated in neighboring Asian countries like Thailand and Singapore. In Vietnam, the new year is called 'Tet' and while the traditions are similar, the celebrations last for just seven days.
Xin Nian Kuai Le! (Happy New Year)
Resources: musiced.about.com, wikipedia.org