Today, Friday 31 January, we enter the Year of the Horse in Chinese culture. With a week of celebrations, it’s easy to get lost when planning your Spring Festival, or Lunar New Year, celebrations.
So, in the interests of public health and happiness, and in support of Horses everywhere, here are our top ten tips for a successful celebration.
1. Don’t clean the house
I really hope you did a good clean sometime in the past week, because it is now officially bad luck to clean your house. Until the celebration is finished, leave the vacuum, mop and dusting cloth alone – or you might clear away the good luck for the year to come.
Incidentally, if you did do a good clean this week, you’ve probably managed to sweep away last year’s back luck – good job!
2. Decorate everything
The aim of the game here is to get as many fruits, flowers and red things into your house as possible. Okay, that might be an exaggeration. But red decorations are a definite must, particularly at the front door and entryway. Aim for some gold highlights as well, if you can, for the all-important combination of money and luck.
Flowers that grow from a bulb, and so represent hidden wealth, are very popular, as are peach or willow branches, to celebrate springtime, regeneration and growth.
For fruit, we look to orange, lime and mandarin trees for wealth and prosperity. On the first day of New Year, take a few oranges out the front of your house, and roll them through the open door to encourage wealth to flow into the home.
3. Wear red – especially underneath
This is particularly important for people whose birth year it is (that’s people born in the year of the Horse, who will turn 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 and so on).
Traditional Chinese belief is that meeting the year of your own zodiac – known as benming nian - can make for an unlucky year.
Red, being the colour of luck, is the best way to ward off the dangers of being a Horse in the Year of the Horse. Ideally, you’ll want to wear something red on every day of the year, but it’s essential that you’ve got your russet tones in action during Spring Festival. Possibly to avoid restrictions on personal style, it seems that red underpants are the way to go for many people.
4. Keep the kitchen god happy
Zao Jun (or Táo Quân in Vietnam) is in charge of all things culinary in your home. He’s the most important of all the domestic gods, which makes sense given that he looks after the food-place. Every year he heads off to the Jade Emperor (the king of heaven) to report on your family activity. The amount of luck you get depends on how happy he is with you, so make sure you offer him a few things to sweeten his mood. Tradition recommends offering him food and incense, along with a bit of honey (to either sweeten his words or stick his mouth closed, depending on who you ask).
5. Visit your family, and your friends
Lunar New Year is all about family. The New Year’s Eve meal is probably the most important dinner of the year. Think of it like a Christmas dinner for a Western family. However, with fifteen days of celebration, there’s plenty of time for each arm of the family to take responsibility for a meal. Some traditional New Year’s food is:
- Eight Treasures Rice: glutinous rice with walnuts, colourful dried fruit, raisins, sweet red bean paste, jujube dates, and almonds
- Tang Yuan: black sesame rice ball soup or a Won Ton soup
- Chicken, duck, fish and pork dishes
- Song Gao: ‘loose cake’- made of coarsely-ground rice which has been formed into a small, sweet round cake.
- Jiu Niang Tang: sweet wine-rice soup with small, glutinous rice balls
6. Play mahjong
Now, this isn’t necessarily a compulsory part of New Year celebrations, but one should take any excuse possible for a game of the fast-paced, four-player game of unknown origin and widespread appeal.
7. Carry Angpau
You’re bound to have seen these red envelopes floating around at Lunar New Year and other special occasions. They’re called Hong Bao in Mandarin, and are usually filled with money and given to children or unmarried adults with no job. In Vietnam, they are also given to the elderly.
The idea is that your gift, of money wrapped in red, will bring good fortune and happiness to the recipients.
8. Pay your debts and make amends
Holding a grudge or a debt at the start of the new year will just carry bad luck into the year ahead. Starting off the year debt free will help you to be financially lucky and sorting out your personal gripes helps you to start the year with positive energy and luck.
Get the weight off your shoulders and start the new year right.
9. Go to a parade
If the city you live in has a Chinese, Vietnamese, Koran, Mongolian or Tibetan community, there’s a good chance that someone will be hosting a celebration. Do a bit of research and you’re bound to find a lion dance in Chinatown, or a Tet parade in the centre of your local Vietnamese community.
10. Be kind and wish the world well
Lunar New Year is all about happiness and good fortune. Spreading goodwill and happiness just increases the positivity surrounding you and helps to increase the luck that you carry into the new year. Avoid starting a fight or carrying negative attitude during the New Year period, as it will bring you bad luck.
When you greet other people during the New Year period, use the traditional greeting, ‘Kung Hei Fat Choy’ or ‘Gong Xi Fa Chai,’ in Cantonese and Mandarin respectively. This is a wish for happiness and wealth to the person you are greeting. In Vietnamese, wish people, ‘Chúc mừng năm mới,’ for the same good wishes.
Once all that is done, starting getting ready for the lantern festival, which is about two weeks after the first day of the Lunar New Year.