Chinese New Year is a celebration based on ancient mythology. According to legend, Nian – a horrendous blood-thirsty monster appeared on the last day each year, obliterating villages and gobbling up people. A wise elder told villagers Nian could be driven away with loud noises. The people responded with fireworks, setting fire to bamboo and banging drums. Confused and terrified, Nian ran away, hiding in a cave until the next year. Elated villagers woke on the first day of a new year greeting each other with “Guo Nian” – literally “survive the Nian”, commonly known today as “celebrate the new year”.
Arrival of the new year is based on the ancient Chinese calender. Known as “lunisolar” observance of time,( a combination of solar and lunar progression) a Chinese month follows one lunar cycle. Since a lunar cycle averages 29.5 days, a lunar month is 29-30 days, with 12 lunar months in a year. To catch up with the solar calender of 365.25 days, every few years an extra month is added – the reason Chinese New Year falls anywhere between January 21-February 21.
Chinese lunar calenders cycle every 12 years – each year a different animal (zodiac) sign represents characteristics of people born that year. Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. On February 18, Chinese welcomed the year of the Sheep.
“The sheep (goat, or ram) is among the animals that people like most. It is gentle and calm. Since ancient times, people have learned to use its fleece to make writing brushes and skin to keep warm. As it is white, people describe delicate and precious white jade to be ‘suet jade’. Thus it is close to the meaning of good things”