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This most special holiday for Chinese all over the world is a “moveable feast,” as it occurs on the second new moon after the shortest day of the year (the winter solstice, December 21) and lasts about two weeks. According to the Western calendar, this means the holiday begins sometime in either late January or early February. Tradition holds that homes must be cleaned from top to bottom in preparation for the festivities. On New Year’s Eve, families get together for a banquet, and at this feast fish is the dish of delight, as the Chinese word for “fish” sounds like yu, or “great plenty.” Red is the color of luck and all children receive red envelopes filled with money and bright, shining moon-like coins. Adults write “spring couplets” on red paper; these are short poems that are hung around the doorway to greet the New Year auspiciously. Oranges are placed around the house in bowls and plates and blooming plants adorn the home both indoors and out. All generations of the extended Chinese family, from great-grandmother to the tiniest toddler, stay up late playing games, telling stories and making wishes for the New Year. They call this most auspicious time of the year “HongBau,” and apply the ancient and sacred principles of feng shui in a celebration of love and luck. Gather red envelopes, coins and paper money. The Chinese call the red envelopes lee sees.
On the actual day of the Chinese New Year, go around to your neighbors, friends and family with red envelopes containing money. If you are like me, bright, shiny coins are what you can easily afford to give instead of envelopes stuffed with paper money. With each gift, greet folks with Gung Hey Fat Choy, which means “Wishing you prosperity and health.”
Give every child two lee sees, because happiness comes in pairs. By taking care to provide the children you know with lee sees, you are making sure the next generation has good luck. Business owners also give lee sees to employees, important partners and associates. When you hand a lee see to anyone you may have a grudge or grievance with, you should let go of the old feeling and refuse to drag the new you down with emotional baggage in the New Year.
In March we see the more tangible signs of spring—grass and trees begin to green, birds return from where they have wintered, and we breathe in the warmer breezes that herald summer ahead. Be careful, however—March can be a month of surprises and changes. Celebrate spring by bringing fresh flowers into your home, and take advantage of the first fruits and vegetables in the markets. March marks the vernal (or spring) equinox, one of only two days of the year where the hours of daylight and the night are balanced equally. The vernal equinox, like its partner, the autumnal equinox, exemplifies the concept of equilibrium and the idea that two halves create a whole: only with the darkness can light be seen and appreciated.
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