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Chinese New Year

New Year’s Eve; a time to reflect on the past year, a time to celebrate with loved ones and a time for looking towards the future. But if you thought us Brits celebrated this annual party of new beginnings in style, then you thought wrong. In comparison to our Eastern counterparts, our celebrations are nothing! The Chinese New Year, or the Nian festival as it is traditionally known, is a celebration which takes place in order to bring an end to the last year and welcome in a new one by the Chinese. It lasts for 15 days, beating our time of celebration by approximately 15 days and 14 nights.

The Shengxiào, known in English to be the Chinese zodiac, is a system that relates each year to an animal and is based on a 12-year cycle. This coming celebration of New Year will be the seventh in the cycle, so will see the end of the year of the Snake, and the beginning of the year of the Horse. The ordering of the animals in relation to the years they represent is said to be based on the final positions the animals finished in during the ‘Great Race’. The race was across water, with all the animals using their different abilities to their advantage, subsequently meaning that the things they were incapable of doing acted as a disadvantage. Firstly, the rat and the ox crossed with ease, with the rat hitchhiking on the ox's back and jumping off to claim the race. The tiger had little problem crossing, and despite the dragon stopping to help others costing him the victory, it finished fourth. The rabbit crossed on a floating log which the dragon was moving for it, and finished fifth. The horse, obviously an outstanding runner, found crossing the water a challenge, would have been next to finish, but the snake had wrapped itself around one of the horse’s legs and slithered off right at the end to finish before the stallion. The goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig followed in that order.

This next year will bring both wealth and prosperity, to those who are not born on a horse year in the Chinese zodiac calendar, a theme that is evident in all Chinese New Year festivals with red envelopes full of money being passed out. Married couples or the elderly give these red envelopes to unmarried juniors, and the amount of money is usually notes in order to make it difficult to judge the amount inside before opening. A tradition is to avoid opening the envelopes in front of the relatives out of courtesy.

So with the diverse celebration of animals no two Chinese New Years are the same, and with the giving of money as gifts it is a time for everyone to look forward to and truly celebrate. Our New Year’s celebrations pale in comparison, as all we have to put up with is a few party poppers and a glass of champagne.

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