Millions of people across China crowded onto trains and buses this weekend, hurrying home to be with their families for the country's most important holiday, Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival. January 23 marks the end of the Year of the Rabbit, and the beginning of the Year of the Dragon.
More than one billion people worldwide celebrate Lunar New Year. In China, people from Beijing to Guangzhou enjoy a holiday. Businesses and government offices are closed. Many people go to temples to pray for good fortune.
History of the Holiday
The Lunar New Year is celebrated at the second new moon after the winter solstice. The winter solstice, which falls around December 21, is one of two times of the year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the equator. It is also the shortest day of the year.
According to an ancient legend, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Lunar New Year. Twelve animals came, and Buddha named a year after each one. The animals were the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Boar (or Pig).
The Year of Good Fortune
Buddha announced that people born in each animal's year would have some of that animal's personality. If you were born in 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, or 2000, you were born in the year of the Dragon. In ancient times, the dragon was a symbol reserved for the Chinese emperor. It is the only mythical creature in the 12-year cycle of animals. It is considered the best symbol for success, happiness and good fortune. People who were born in these years are believed to be brave, passionate and filled with luck and strength. They are said to get along best with people born under the year of the Rat or Monkey.
Festivals, Lions and Feasts
On Lunar New Year's Eve, the Chinese celebrate with fireworks, family gatherings and festivals. One of the most popular ways to celebrate the holiday is with the lion dance. The lion is considered a holy animal. During celebrations, dancers dressed as lions (or holding up elaborate paper lions) perform. The dancers are supposed to bring good luck to the people they visit at their homes or businesses. People often wear red, which symbolizes fire. Legend has it that fire can drive away bad luck.
The 15-day New Year season is celebrated with firecrackers, dragon dances and visits to friends and family. The celebrations end with the Lantern Festival, when brightly colored lamps are hung in parks around China.