The Chinese Association of Science, Education and Culture of South Florida will sponsor dancers at the Boca celebration Feb. 18. Photo provided by wangweijiang
(This is the second in an occasional series on how various cultures celebrate the new year.)
By Janis Fontaine
In American culture, we worship the sun. Our calendar is based on how quickly our planet revolves around our life-giving star. The new year comes when we return to (pretty much) where we started.
In many Asian countries, the new year is based on the lunar calendar, which has about two fewer days in its cycle than the typical month. The date of the new year can vary as much as a month on our solar calendar, usually from Jan. 21 to Feb. 20.
Where the common zodiac is based on the day and month of your birth, the Chinese zodiac is based on the year. There are 12 years in a zodiac cycle, and each year has an associated animal, chosen for its attributes. This is the Year of the Dog.
The Chinese New Year, and other lunar new year celebrations, take place Feb. 16 this year. In China, New Year’s is the most important holiday of the year. It’s so culturally significant that businesses close for a week so everyone can travel home to see the family. “New Year’s means a new start, a new life,” Jennifer Jia of Delray Beach said. She moved to Boca Raton from China in 1996 to get her master’s degree at Florida Atlantic University. “Chinese are very family-oriented. Everyone gets together for New Year’s dinner. That’s why it’s a week long, to give people time to travel.”
Jia is the vice president of the Chinese Association of Science, Education and Culture of South Florida, which is planning its fifth annual Chinese New Year’s Festival in Mizner Park in Boca Raton on Feb. 18. (The association moved the festival to the closest Sunday to the new year, for obvious reasons.)
CASEC has 10,000 members spread across Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. The association rotates the venue every two years between Boca Raton and Miami.
The first year in Boca, the festival packed the amphitheater with more than 2,700 guests. “I think we broke some attendance records,” she said. The next year, it was “freezing” and attendance fell to 2,000. If the weather is good, Jia thinks the festival might break another record because “the Chinese community is growing.”
Jia, who owns a Delray Beach software company, says Boca Raton’s mayor, City Council and Mizner Park have always been enthusiastic about the festival, which introduces Chinese culture, customs and costumes and incorporates Chinese traditions like the vibrant, athletic lion dance, the precision of Chinese calligraphy demonstrations and diverse and unusual art. Traditional food is served, including spring rolls, fish, greens, rice cakes and sweet rice balls.
Another popular custom in China is giving red envelopes to children. “It’s very important,” Jia says. Parents and grandparents give unmarried children envelopes of cash “for being well-behaved all year.”
People traditionally dress in bright colors, with at least a little bit of red, she says.
Jia keeps in touch with her father and others in China at the New Year via Skype.
At the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, the fourth annual Chinese New Year Celebration be Feb. 17. This free event features lectures, tours, a calligraphy demonstration and workshop; dancers from Lee Koon Hung Kung Fu will perform the lion dance and the dragon dance.
New Year’s celebrations
Chinese New Year
The Spring Festival or Lunar New Year celebrates the change from one zodiac year to the next in a 12-year repeating cycle. Chinese zodiac signs are determined by year of birth; each sign is named for an animal: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, pig.
When: Feb. 16
Who celebrates: The Spring Festival is also celebrated in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mauritius, Australia and the Philippines— more than 1.5 billion people.
How they celebrate: The New Year is a time to honor one’s ancestors with family gatherings and traditional foods. Fireworks, invented in China, are a huge part of the celebrations. Lion dancing, believed to bring good luck, is part of the celebrations.
Korean New Year
Some Koreans celebrate our solar new year, called Sinjeong, but most celebrate Seollal.
When: Feb. 16
Who celebrates: It’s a national holiday and most Koreans celebrate.
How they celebrate: This three-day celebration is one of the most significant holidays of the Korean calendar. Not only is it a time for paying respect to ancestors, but it is also an opportunity to catch up with family members. During Seollal, Koreans usually wear hanbok (traditional clothes), perform ancestral rites, play folk games, eat traditional foods, listen to stories and talk well into the night.
Vietnamese New Year
This is the most important holiday in Vietnam. Its name, Tet Nguyen Dan, means “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day.”
When: Feb. 16
Who celebrates: Young and old throughout Vietnam.
How they celebrate: One custom is housecleaning before the new year — except for sweeping, which is not allowed during Tet because it would sweep out good luck.
Family reunions with traditional foods are popular, as is giving money to children and the elderly. Custom dictates that the first person to visit a home in the new year will set the tone for the coming months.
If You Go
What: Chinese New Year's Festival
When: 3:30-9 p.m. Feb. 18
Where: Mizner Park Amphitheater, 960 Plaza Real, Boca Raton
Features: Entertainment, food, art, lion dancers
What: Chinese New Year Celebration
When: Noon-8 p.m. Feb. 17
Where: Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach
Features: Music, lectures, tours, a Chinese calligraphy demonstration and workshop, and a performance of both the lion dance and the dragon dance
Info: 832-5196; www.