Here in Texas, our Wild West mentality and fondness for horses go hand in hand. But this week you may see and hear about horses in a completely different context. This Friday, January 31st, is the Chinese New Year and 2014 is the Year of the Horse. Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival and the Lunar New Year, it is the longest festival on the Chinese calendar.
So why is this Texas gal so excited about a Far East holiday? Well, for starters, I was born in 1978, also the Year of the Horse, and it is fun to think that 2014 might have something extra special in store for me. Secondly, I love any excuse for a celebration.
Maybe your Chinese astrology animal is the horse, too, or you’ve had a rough start to 2014 and you’re ready for a new year re-do. Or, like me, you’re simply up for a party any time of year. Whatever your reason, I invite you to learn more about the history and tradition of this annual festival and enjoy the holiday along with me.
This joyous time of year was (ironically) inspired by fear. Though the details will vary from teller to teller, the gist of the story is that a horrifying mythical sea monster, named Nian (also the Chinese word for “year”) preyed upon villagers. Fortunately, the evil Nian was terrified of the color red and loud noises so villagers put up a defense by shooting firecrackers, hanging red paper lanterns, wearing red dragon costumes, and beating drums. Every year since, the Chinese have celebrated “the passing of the Nian” with the same loud, red flair.
The holiday is originally 15 days long and today’s celebrations carry on anywhere from a week to the full two weeks. Celebrations include parties, gift-giving, and parades complete with a dragon and lion dance. As a sign of good luck, children are given gold coins in red envelopes. Like many Western holidays, food is an important part of the tradition, especially sweets (another reason I love this holiday). Traditional celebratory foods include nian gao (sticky rice cake) and savory dumplings, which symbolize never-ending wealth.
So, how can you get in on the Chinese New Year in Houston this year? The Chinese Community Center of Houston is hosting a huge party complete with performances, cultural exhibitions, food and games, an outdoor bazaar, a photography exhibition, talent show, and loads of raffle prizes on Saturday, February 1st! That ought to be an exciting and beautiful day of celebration. If you’d prefer to do something closer to home, consider any of these recipes or DIY projects (which are great for kids).
In the spirit of (another) start to the year, Happy Chinese New Year y’all!