Kung Hei Fat Choy 2020!
Although you thought the holidays were over, they're just getting started in China. On the 25th of January, it'll be time to say goodbye to the Year of the Pig and welcome the Year of the Rat.
What does that mean for you, apart from an excuse to tuck into some fortune cookies? You might be surprised to learn that rats are lucky animals in the Chinese zodiac, associated with wealth and fortune. So when you're playing roulette online in 2020, maybe some of that luck could rub off on you?
The Legend of the Lucky Rat
To explore why the rat represents good fortune, we have to go all the way back to the dawn of the Chinese calendar. Legend has it that the Jade Emperor summoned twelve animals to him and organised a race. The race involved not just running, but also crossing a river. Rats may not be great swimmers, but other animals are, so the cunning rodent decided to hitch a lift on the back of the unwitting ox.
The rat's plan worked out. As the race progressed, the ox was in the lead - right until the last few inches. That's when the rat jumped off his back to cross the finish line first and claim first prize. His reward? The first year in the Chinese zodiac cycle.
Cycles of the Chinese Calendar
In the west, we've been using the Gregorian Calendar since 1582, with the year divided into the twelve months that we're all familiar with. Every year begins on the 1st of January and ends on the 31st of December. That's not the same in the Chinese calendar, which is based on the cycles of the moon and the sun. Chinese New Year takes place on a different date every year. It's always in January or February, but the exact day varies according to the new moon.
Additionally, Chinese years are set on a 12-year cycle. Each cycle begins with the Year of the Rat, followed by the Year of the Ox, and so on - in the order of the animals' race - all the way down to the Year of the Pig, the unfortunate loser of the competition. Just like in the western horoscope, everyone born under one particular sign is supposed to share certain characteristics. If you're planning a baby this year, you're in luck.
Celebrating Chinese New Year
Want to celebrate Chinese New Year in style? Traditions vary across China, but wherever you go, you're in for a long holiday season. The celebrations last at least two weeks, culminating on the official New Year's Day. Fireworks are a must. In fact, more fireworks are set off on Chinese New Year than on any other day of the year - which shouldn't come as a surprise, if you remember that they were invented in China. Naturally, the day is marked with a massive feast, with a variety of dumplings always featuring on the menu.
Cleaning is strictly forbidden during the main celebration. Pick up your broom, and you'll be sweeping away good luck - so feel free to take a day off from chores. It's not an excuse for laziness, though. A separate day is set aside before New Year, for people to clean the house from top to bottom in preparation for the big day.
Spread the Luck in 2020
During the celebration, red is a lucky colour, so most people kit themselves out in scarlet or crimson. Children receive gifts of red envelopes containing "lucky money" (isn't money always lucky?). The exact way that you'll wish someone a happy near year depends on where you are. Mandarin speakers say "xin nian kuai le", but in the west you might be more familiar with the typical Cantonese greeting used in Hong Kong, "kung hei fat choy". Hong Kongers are also the most enthusiastic fans of the lion dance, which you'll be able to see in Chinatowns all over the world during the celebration.
However and whenever you choose to start the new year, be sure to cross your fingers for a little bit of that Year of the Rat fortune!