Year of the Dog starts Sunday

On Sunday, people all over the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year. It's one of the most important Chinese holidays. That's because it celebrates the first day of a new year on the Chinese calendar.

The Chinese calendar is different from the international calendar we use in the US. Today, according to the Chinese calendar, the year is 4703. On Sunday it will become 4704. That calendar is based on the cycles of the moon. That's why Chinese New Year doesn't begin on Jan. 1. It starts on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice (when the sun is at its southernmost point).

The Chinese often refer to years on their calendar by animal names instead of numbers. The names repeat every 12 years. This new year will be the Year of the Dog.

This Chinese celebration weaves folklore with tradition. According to legend, around the new year in ancient China, Nian, a monster beast, sometimes sneaked into homes at night and ate small children, or even their parents, as they slept.

In order to scare off Nian, the Chinese set off firecrackers and wore colorful clothing. They wrote messages on red paper and placed them on the doors of their homes to keep Nian from entering.

Of course, Nian didn't really exist, but the customs that came from this story are still celebrated today.

Lively parades are a big part of celebrating the Chinese New Year. Children often wear costumes made of satin and silk. Some long parade costumes require two people - one in the head and one in the tail.

Children perform acrobatic dances and even dance on stilts to the rhythm of drums, flutes, and gongs.

But the parades are only part of the fun. The new year is about giving gratitude and being with family and friends.

Traditional Chinese foods such as fish, fruits, and boiled beef or pork dumplings are served during the holiday. Many of these foods have symbolic meanings of prosperity and happiness.

Symbolism is also seen in many floral decorations, which are a sign of wealth. And adults often give children red paper envelopes with money inside.

As some Chinese say, Gong Xi Fa Cai. Or as we say in English, Happy New Year!

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