Chinese New Year: Ring in the Year of the Monkey, China’s historic policy end

Multi-level mall decorated with big hanging Chinese symbols and red knotted ropes

Chinese New Year decorations at the atrium of Plaza Singapura, Orchard Road, in Singapore. Photo by Choo Yut Shing, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 8: Roast pigs and noodles, red envelopes, lanterns and gold-embellished décor usher in the 2016 Chinese New Year of the Monkey, which sweeps the globe and sets Chinese celebrations in motion for more than two weeks.

A primary festival day actually occurs one day before the Chinese New Year’s Day, forming the ‘Excluded Evening’ on Feb. 7 that is reserved for family reunions. For many, an entire week is given off of work, for parties and visits, while some festivities carry on even longer. This year, London claims the biggest party outside of Asia, with additional large-scale revelries in Argentina, Australia and the United States.

WORLD’S LARGEST HUMAN MIGRATION

How big is this holiday? News wire services around the world, from Reuters to CNN, regularly describe this enormous holiday movement of families as “the world’s largest human migration.” In fact, Chinese railroad stations are designed with extra capacity to handle this vast homecoming. According to National Geographic:

Every winter, hundreds of millions of Chinese return home for the Spring Festival, the Chinese celebration of the Lunar New Year. The mass migration, known in Chinese as chunyun, accounted for … 3.62 billion trips made during the 40-day period surrounding the holiday in 2014.

CNN puts the number closer to 3.7 billion, counting trips by mass transit, by air and the use of personal vehicles, a common practice as the Chinese economy expands and more families own cars.

Yellow lighting on plate of Chinese dumplings with chopsticks on plate

Traditional Chinese dumplings. Photo by Sheilaz413, courtesy of Flickr

Who is the Monkey? People born in the Year of the Monkey are characterized as inquisitive, pioneering and mischievous, though clever in their careers and in wealth. People of the Monkey are sociable, self-assured and versatile, though their selfishness, arrogance and temper may hinder opportunities. But be careful! The Year of the Monkey is believed to be one of the most unlucky years of the Chinese calendar.

The color red, which is considered auspicious and homophonous with the Chinese word for “prosperous,” dominates décor during the Spring Festival, which ushers in warmer weather. When the New Year approaches, it is customarily ushered in with a Reunion Dinner, which is replete with symbolic foods. For two weeks, visits are made and hosted with family and friends.

Looking for an inexpensive, at-home recipe for Chinese New Year? Try these traditional Chinese wontons, or dumplings, that are made in Shanghai style and consumed for their alleged ability to promote wealth.

CHINESE NEW YEAR: BUDDHA, THE MONKEY & LANTERNS

Round paper lanterns, lit, with red writing in Chinese

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Legend has it that when the Buddha (or the Jade Emperor) invited animals to a New Year’s celebration, only 12 showed up; these 12 animals were each rewarded with a year. Tradition has it that a person’s birth year indicates that he or she will possess the characteristics of the animal in reign during that year.

Unparalleled among Chinese holidays, the New Year begins weeks in advance, with families cleaning and hanging paper cutouts in their homes, shopping for specialty foods and purchasing new clothing. Businesses pay off debts, gifts are distributed to business associates and everything is completed according to symbolism—for good luck, prosperity and health in the coming year. Channel News Asia reports that China’s central bank will be injecting 440 billion yuan (U.S. $67 billion) into the money market, providing liquidity in anticipation of the Lunar New Year financial demands.

In Buddhist and Taoist households, home altars and statues are cleaned.

NEW YEAR STAMPS: PEONIES & THE TWO-CHILD POLICY

Stamps from the China Post serve a dual purpose in 2016: Celebration of the Lunar New Year and recognition of the historic end to the country’s one-child policy. One of the new stamps, commissioned to 92-year-old Chinese artist Huang Yongyu, features a smiling, cartoon monkey being kissed by two baby monkeys. According to CNN, the China Post originally asked for a female monkey holding a baby, but the artist insisted on drawing two. As of January 1, 2016, the Chinese government formally ended its three-decade-long one-child policy, now permitting couples to have two children. All second babies born on or after Jan. 1, 2016 are considered legal.

In the United States, the Year of the Monkey stamp features reddish-orange peonies—the national Chinese flower—and a small, cut-paper image of a monkey. (Learn more from USPS.) In addition, gold ink in grass-style calligraphy shows the Chinese character for “monkey,” and “Lunar New Year” is written in gold up the right edge. The stamp’s issue date was Feb. 5.

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