Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 31, 2002

Holidays share Chinese origin

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

According to the Chinese lunar calendar devised in 2698 B.C. by the legendary emperor Huangdi, this Year of the Horse begins Feb. 12.

In most parts of Asia the new lunar year based on the Chinese calendar is known as "The New Year" and celebrations last several days.

It's called Tet Nguyen Dan in Vietnam and Ku Jung in Korea. In China, however, the holiday is now celebrated as the Spring Festival, Zhun Jei, rather than Zhun Nian, or new year's, said University of Hawai'i-Manoa ethnic studies assistant professor Carol Fan.

While the Japanese also recognize this as the Year of the Horse, they celebrate the new year with Western countries, on Jan. 1.

Fortunetelling, temple blessings, good-luck wishes written on red paper, dancing, music and special food are common to all lunar new year celebrations. Although their nationalities may differ, many people in Southeast Asia are of Chinese ethnic origin, Fan noted.

In Hawai'i, many long-time Asian residents celebrate the Chinese new year with less enthusiasm than they do Jan. 1.

"I think a lot of older people and new immigrants follow the Chinese calendar," said Puck Lee, 67, who came to Hawai'i from Canton in 1951. "I think I'm more local than old-fashioned."

However, Beverly Reindollar, a fourth-generation resident of Chinese ancestry, likes to come to Chinatown for the lunar new year. "It's a good time to get good Chinese food — jai, gau and mooncake — and I like the festivities," Reindollar said.

Different Asian cultures celebrate with similar traditional dishes. Banh chung, a square rice wrap filled with pork and beans, is eaten by the Vietnamese with pickled vegetables during Tet. Koreans enjoy a special mochi-like cake called tduk that can be used in soup. Jai, or monk's food, is a Chinese tradition at this time of year.

The traditional Chinese new year's greeting, "kung hee fat choy," extends happiness, prosperity and wealth. For the Vietnamese it's "chuc mung naam moii" or "great new year to you," while Koreans say "sae hae bok manei pateuiseyo," or "receive much good luck in the new year."

The most common local greeting will be "happy new year."

The lunar new year occurs on the second new moon after the starting date of winter, no earlier than Jan. 20 or later than Feb. 20 on the Gregorian solar calendar used by most of the world since 1582.

People born in horse years — 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, 1942, 1930, 1918 — are said to be energetic, frank, self-assured, independent, open, adventurous, aggressive, competitive and impatient.

The year is 4700 on the Chinese calendar, though some claim it is 4699 because of a difference of eight days in the starting count of Huangdi's calendar, based on the first day of winter.

Each year is identified by one of the five elements — wood, fire, earth, metal and water — and either dark (yin) or light (yang) principle. The Chinese zodiac has 12 animals: horse (2002), ram (2003), monkey (2004), rooster (2005), dog (2006), boar (2007), rat (2008), ox (2009), tiger (2010), rabbit (2011), dragon (2012) and snake (2013).

The cycle is completed every 60 years, so in Chinese terms this "dark horse water year" also could be called the 20th year in the 79th cycle.