Chinese New Year–Roosters,dragons, lanterns, spring!

ADDENDUM — Saturday, January 28 – Be sure to click on today’s Google back story – great info on Chinese Lunar New Year – Year of the Rooster!


Something to crow about!” caught my eye as perhaps the best promo line for a Chinese New Year celebration! It’s posted by the Harriet Alexander Nature Center in Roseville, announcing their Year of the Rooster celebration! Read more about the fun family event here. (

Roseville’s event is just one of scores of ways in which Minnesotans join in the traditions of the Chinese New Year, a grand celebration rich with ritual, stories, customs and legends. Though dates vary slightly, many agree that Chinese New Year 2017 begins January 28 and continues through February 3. This new year is something to crow about because it’s the Year of the Rooster!

The Calendar: And here it gets a little complicated. According to the traditional Chinese solar calendar the zodiac year begins with ‘Start of Spring’ on February 3rd in 2017. However, most Chinese tend to name a zodiac year from Chinese New Year according to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, thus the 2017 lunar year of the Rooster starts on January 28th.   To add to the complexity, actually Start of Spring occurs twice in lunar year 2017. As lunar year 2017 starts on January 28th 2017 and finishes on February 15th 2018, there will be two ‘Starts of Spring” one on February 3th 2017, and another on February 4th 2018.

Moreover, to keep the Chinese lunar calendar within half a month of the traditional solar calendar, there will be a leap month in 2017 (a second lunar month 6 starting July 23rd). So there are 13 lunar months instead of 12, which means there are 384 days in Rooster year 2017.

Year of the Rooster: Roosters played a major role in the daily lives of people living in ancient times – so important that they were regarded as mascots because they ate harmful insects. They also served as timepieces, announcing the hours of the day. The term “rooster hours” actually refers to the early evening, 5:00-7:00 p.m., when the roosters would go back to their roosts.

Roosters are characterized by five virtues — literary, military prowess, courageous, benevolent, and trustworthy. People born in the year of the Rooster are said to be active, popular, outspoken, happiest in groups – probably in a group celebrating Chinese New Year! They’re also healthy and maybe a little moody!

Customs: A few highlights offer just a hint of the rich cultural tapestry. The first three days of the New Year are celebrated as public holidays.

The sea-dwelling monster Nian shows up on New Year’s Eve to eat people and livestock. Fear of Nian once sent folks scurrying for shelter until an old man visited to the village, saving the villagers by pasting red papers on doors, burning bamboo to make threatening noises, lighting candles and wearing red clothing. The old man’s techniques worked so well that the villagers adopted the firecrackers, red clothing, and other tools that have forever become the hallmarks of the new year festivities.

There was also a demon named Sui that showed up to terrify children while they were sleeping. Legend is that the children who were touched by the demon would be too frightened to cry out; thus, to keep children safe from Sui parents would light candles and stay up with the little ones. On one New Year’s Eve the parents gave their child coins to play with in order to keep him awake and alert to the treacherous demon.   The child wrapped the coins in red paper, opened the packet, rewrapped it, and reopened it until he fell asleep at which point the parents placed the red packet under his pillow. When Sui tried to touch the child’s head, the coins emitted a strong light, which turned out to be a cadre of fairies who scared the demon away. Of the many New Years customs this money-centric culture places special focus on the red packets so that today there is an entire etiquette of financial exchange.

There are layers upon layers of wonderful traditions, most revolving around family reunions and customs. Prominent among the traditions is the dragon, a popular and omnipresent symbol of strength and good luck.   Giant dragons, animated by teams of humans, are the main feature of every New Year parade. Another fascinating custom is the “spring couplet”   – not so much a literary effort but a poetic weapon designed to scare evil things away – long story.

The wrap-up of the New Year celebration is the Lantern Festival, a time to enjoy the beauty of holiday lanterns and the taste of sweet rice dumpling soup.   The best way to join in one of the many local Lantern Festivals is to check local online and print calendars – you may be surprised at just how many ways there are to share those red packets of coins and the fun of joining in the many and varied Chinese New Year customs.







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