New Year: Horse Style

By Monica Fortunaso Monica studies a Bachelor of Pharmacy, loves a good coffee, and endless swimming.

Artwork by Monica Fortunaso

In typical Aussie fashion was the year of 2014 celebrated: beers in our hands, new year’s resolutions set, our jobs re-begun, our lives ‘back on track’ … the end finally, after days upon days of festivities. But if you thought the opportunity to celebrate the New Year has already passed us by, think again!

The Chinese celebrate their New Year in a traditional sense—that is, according to the seasons and cycles of the moon. Although they have adopted the western solar calendar, the lunar calendar is still utilised to guide some of their key cultural festivals. Historically, the lunar calendar was formulated to facilitate agriculture, by keeping track of time so villagers knew when to till the soil and sow the crops.

Like any culture, the origins of this significant event are from way back in the ‘good ol’ days’ when ‘legends were born’; the most popular being the story of Nian, meaning Year, as in New Year or ‘Xin Nian’.

And it goes something like this…

In Ancient times, there was a monster—a ferocious animal—one that bore the body of a bull and the head of a lion. Deep in the mountains did it dwell, hunting for its existence.

Towards the end of winter however, there would be little to nothing to eat so the monster would travel down from the mountains and attack the villages, eating anything it could find. Over this time the villagers would be in constant fear and terror, not able to leave their houses.

But over time, the villagers came to realise that the fierce and unstoppable Nian was fearful of three things: the colour scarlet, fire and noise. Now having worked this out, the villagers came together and agreed that when it was time for Nian’s annual visit around the end of winter, they would all start fires in front of their doors, hang scarlet painted boards in front of their houses and stay awake, making a lot of noise.

So, when Nian was spotted slinking down from the mountains to make his first kill, the villagers arose, started the fires, put up the boards and stayed up, making as much noise as they could. As the monster arrived and heard the terrible ruckus as well as the fire and scarlet boards, he freaked and ran full pelt back into the mountains never to return.

Exhausted, the villagers went to sleep but the next day celebrated and congratulated themselves on ridding the village from fear of the monster. The next year, they repeated the ritual in the chance of the monster Nian returning and it has since been passed down generation to generation.

Following this legend came many of the traditions associated with Chinese New Year: fireworks, to drive away evil; ‘Shou Sui’ which involves a family member staying awake until midnight to fend off Nian; a red packet or envelope given to the youngsters, which contains money, believed to suppress evil and keep them healthy and long living; and last but not least, scarlet-coloured decorations—symbolic of the scarlet used to banish the wicked Nian.

Another important aspect of Chinese New Year is the 12 animals that are cycled through, taking turns to represent each year. This year, 2014, is considered the year of the horse which, if you attend any of the festivities, will be a noticeable theme amongst the decorations. People born in the last Year of the Horse, which may be some of you (1978 and 1990 were also Years of the Horse), are considered clever, kind, animated and energetic. Horses are a social and intelligent animal and so love to immerse themselves in a crowd (parties, concerts, meetings, sporting occasions). However, it is also a wild animal and therefore has a lot of energy and works hard but can couple this with a tendency to be hot-headed and impatient! Sound familiar to anyone?

The Chinese New Year celebrations take place until 9 February—if you miss out this year, you may want to keep it in mind for 2015, the Year of the Sheep.

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