ADA — Sunday, Jan. 29, marked the first day of the Chinese New Year, a celebration that has been renowned for centuries throughout the world.

According to Ada resident Loretta Yin, the holiday encompasses an interesting legend.

"Each year is named after a beast," she said. "That beast would come down from the mountain every 365 days, which would be one year, to eat the people and harm the people in the village. If you survived that, people would say ‘Oh congratulations!’ or ‘Happy New Year!’ So we celebrate being alive another year."

The beginning of the Chinese New Year varies annually because the holiday commences with the New Moon in the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later.

“Chinese New Year falls around January or February,” Yin said, “because our calendar is a lunar calendar and we base the calendar on the moon.”

The holiday lasts for 15 days, with each day representing something different. For example, the initial day of the Chinese New year is generally reserved for families to gather and partake in a feast that is made up of different foods that represent good luck for the upcoming year.

“Chinese people are big on eating,” she said. “Food is very important and we would have feasts. The dishes symbolize good fortune, happiness and other things. Whole fish would mean ‘surplus’ which is important to the Chinese people. The word chicken sounds, in Chinese, like ‘Opportunity‘, so we had to have chicken. So everything we had meant something. Oranges, or tangerines especially, mean ‘good luck‘.”

Yin also explained her experiences with the holiday in the past.

“Normally it is family-oriented.” she said. “In the old days, we would close the shops and offices and everyone would get that day off. The shops would usually not open until they received a god or fortune, which would be on the fourth day of the New Year. So everyone got at least three or four days off. The custom was that we had to clean our house and get the house prepared for the gods because everything was supposed to be sacred. You're supposed to have new clothes and new shoes. You did not use fire, because fire is considered to be bad. So you would cook a lot of food the day before New Year's, then have leftovers the next day. On New Year's Eve it was custom that the family would get together and eat the meal, to symbolize that you would all be together, but of course nowadays that doesn't really work!”

The holiday is a celebration of family, both young and old. Yin described other traditions that are associated with the new year.

“In the old days during the New Year, you would have to pay respect to your elders and to your relatives,” she said. “It would usually be in rank, from oldest and so on and so forth. And the older ones would pass out red packages with money for good luck to the young ones. We called it ’Lai Si’”

According to Yin, Lai Si translates to “Lucky Money” and the children would obtain large amounts and spend the first day of the new year gambling.

“That was the period of time when gambling was allowed for children.” she said. “The children were not allowed to do that, only except on the new year, and all of the children would get rich with all of the money!”

Lai Si was not only for children though, some people used it in the way of a tip.

“During the old days when we had servants, they would bring out tea for the visitors,” Yin said. “The visitors would leave lucky money for the servants, so everybody would get money.”

Another interesting tradition that takes place during the Chinese New Year is offering up a gift to a certain god.

“We also had kitchen gods.” Yin said. “Most of the old Chinese families would have an image on a paper and that would be placed over the cooking stove and that’s the kitchen god. And the kitchen god watches over the family and reports to heaven what the family has done during the year. So on New Year’s Eve, we would give the kitchen gods offerings, which would be food, and then burn incense and the image on the paper and then send it up to heaven. Then after the new year, you buy another piece to put up. To make sure the kitchen god doesn’t report the bad things you have done through the year, you make something with gooey rice so hopefully his mouth will be stuck together so he won’t be able to talk badly about you!”

The new year also represented a time to start over again.

“Another thing is to pay your debts, settle up your differences with your enemies before the new year and when the new year comes, then everybody is happy and nice, so everybody would have a peaceful and happy time.” she said.

While the traditional festival lasts 15 days, in today’s modern world, Yin said that only the first few days are really celebrated. However, on the 15th day, there is a finale to the celebration.

“The real festival lasts for 15 days.” she said. “And on the 15th day, they would have a lantern festival that would conclude the period and then things would go back to normal.”

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