Do you know the significance of Chinese New Year?

Preparations for Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year and Spring Festival, started on Thursday 4 February and will last until New Year’s Eve a week later. It’s the first year those observing China’s longest festival, celebrated in many parts of the Far East and beyond, will do so with social distancing and a full lockdown in the UK.

This is a photo of red Chinese New Year celebration items

Given the social restrictions, how will people be celebrating this year?
Organisers have been creative with their events, pulling most online. Birkbeck’s Chinese Society will be putting on an event, including a quiz and other activities, to commemorate Chinese New Year. This is a free event, open to all and can be accessed here.

There’s also the digital tour of Chinatown by Chinese Arts Now. Their festival starts right after Chinese New Year, from 15 February- 15 August and will feature performances and art installations. The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, will also be putting on workshops, performances and storytelling online to mark the festivities on 13 February.

Will any of the usual traditions hold?
It’s very likely Chinese people will still observe the usual customs including sprucing up and decorating their homes with red lanterns and other decorations, having a dinner of fish, said to bring good fortune, and will stay up until midnight for fireworks to ward off any bad spirits.

So, what do you wear for the New Year, which is officially marked from 12 February until the Lantern Festival signifying the end of the celebrations on 26 February?
Well, if you’re born in any of the following recent years: 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009 or 2021, it’s highly recommended you adorn yourself and your house in red for the rest of the Chinese calendar year, which runs from February 12 2021 until January 31 2022.

Why?
Superstition has it that red, white, green and yellow will bring good fortune to those born in the Year of the Ox; who otherwise will be beset by bad luck according to Chinese astrology.

But isn’t red synonymous with bulls?
Well, yes, but 2021 is the Year of the Ox, specifically, which we all know is the bull’s close relation. The chinese calendar has quite a methodical way of assigning the ox to set calendar years.

What’s the significance of the Ox?
The Chinese zodiac has determined 2021 the Year of the Ox, an animal celebrated for its strength and reliability; and is the second of the zodiac animals.

Are they all animals?
They do, indeed, all happen to be animals. The Chinese zodiac is split into 12 blocks/houses, each with a one-year time span and an associated animal. Last year was the Year of the Rat and next year (2022) will be the Year of the Tiger. Though, bear in mind, with the start of the calendar falling between the end of January and the end of February, there’s some overlap with animals in any given year. The animals come around every twelve years.

So, does the calendar run with the smallest animal to the largest?
Not quite. Chinese folklore states that the Jade Emperor had beckoned 13 animals and thereafter named the years on the calendar according to the order in which they arrived.

13 animals?
Yes- one dropped out of the race. A very unlucky cat who is said to have drowned in the race. Not to be confused with the lucky cat charm, Maneki Neko, the Fortune Cat which is believed to bring good luck to its owners and is known for its signature wave.

Are there observations one should make in making sure they enjoy prosperity and good fortune?
Absolutely. Those celebrating are likely to skip a porridge breakfast on the Lunar New Year so as not to start the year off ‘poor’; and don’t expect to see them doing any work involving scissors or needles either, as this is said to lead to a loss of wealth.

We extend our well wishes for a safe, prosperous and Happy New Year to all within our community who are celebrating.

Read more about Birkbeck’s Chinese Society.

Joining instructions for Birkbeck’s free event here.

Find information for our International Student community.

See how Birkbeck students celebrated Chinese New Year last year (2020).

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