February 10th, 2013 is the first day of Chinese New Year!
There are many traditions associated with the Chinese New Year. One of my personal favorites is the giving of gifts in red envelopes. This tradition came from the story of a mythical evil beast, the Nian (pronounced Nee-on), who terrorized a village at the beginning of each new year, eating and destroying everything in its path. The villagers protected themselves by putting food outside their doors to prevent the evil beast from entering their homes. One day, a little girl dressed in all red clothing scared the Nian away and the villagers learned the beast was frightened of the color red.
Every new year from then on, villagers began placing red decorations on their homes and gave each other gifts sealed in red envelopes. Because the Nian was also frightened of loud noises and fire, they lit firecrackers and held a ceremony called the Festival of Lanterns, in which red paper lanterns were lit and lifted to the night sky to celebrate another year of avoiding the beast. This gave the villagers hope and joy for another year of life and love.
What can the Chinese New Year mean in our own lives? Many of us feel down during these bleak winter months, but this holiday reminds us that now is the time to look ahead and focus on all of the wonderful gifts the new year has in store for us. The darkest of winter days are almost over and we can now look forward to those first days of spring!
Happy 2013, the Year of the Snake!