Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! Lets ring in the Year of the Horse.

year-of-the-horse_1388119051

Chinese New Year is one of those floating holidays that seems to fall on a different day each year, why is this?

Throughout history, civilizations around the world have used celestial objects to track the passage of time. People used the movements of the Sun, Moon, or stars to define a calendar for their society to live by. Today the majority of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the orbit of the Earth around the Sun, or the Solar Year. Lunar calendars use the duration of the Moon’s orbit around the Earth, or the Lunar Month. Lunisolar calendars use a combination of both. Although most countries around the world use the standard Gregorian calendar for official government purposes, citizens of these countries often use a Lunar or Lunisolar calendar to mark important social and religious festivals.

The modern Chinese calendar is known as the Han calendar, it is Lunisolar. Like other Lunisolar calendars, the Han calendar takes into account a Solar Year as well as a Lunar month. The Han calendar uses the tropical solar year, which uses the seasons (the solstices) as the reference for the passage of a year. The Chinese calendar references the Winter Solstice specifically.

The New Year is observed on the day of the second new moon after the Winter Solstice, and occasionally on the third new moon. For the majority of us who use the Gregorian calendar this often translates to the first new moon of the new year.

redenvelopesFollowing several days of preparation, at midnight last night the festivities for Chinese New Year kicked off. It is a time of renewal, wishes of good fortune, and paying respect to friends and family. The observation of the new year actually lasts for 15 additional days, each having their own symbolic rituals and customs. One of the most well known traditions is the gift of red envelopes to friends and family. These envelopes often contain money, in amounts that correspond to lucky numbers. They are usually presented to younger people, and sometimes they are ornately decorated.

So, why Year of the Horse? The Chinese Zodiac, like the western zodiac, is separated into twelve signs. Unlike the Western Zodiac that associates each sign with a segment of the Solar Year, the Chinese Zodiac associates each sign with a single year in a twelve year cycle. Follow the link above to learn more, it gets even more complex than that! Last year according to the Han calendar was the year of the Snake, before that the year of the Dragon. Once we reach the Gregorian year 2020 the year of the Rat, the cycle will begin again.

So go forth, wish you friends and neighbors peace and happiness, and ask your family members for red envelopes filled with money! The Year of the Horse has begun.