Happy New Years!
As we engage with the world, we embrace the increased opportunity for cultural exchange made possible by modern technology. In this spirit, and with Chinese New Years just around the corner, below we introduce Chinese zodiac symbols as well as traditional New Years festivities in Tainan, Taiwan, where our global headquarters is located.
New Years in Tainan 100 Years Ago
In Chinese-speaking regions, each year is punctuated by a series of festivals traditionally centered on offerings to gods, ghosts, and ancestors. New Years is the grandest festival of them all. The way in which New Years is celebrated varies by region. In a Chinese description of New Years in a district of present-day Tainan, Taiwan, written about 100 years ago, we are afforded a fascinating glimpse at the customs of the era, most of which are still practiced today. In the weeks leading up to New Years, businesses held a year-end banquet for their employees, and families began a thorough cleaning of their houses. On New Years Eve, shops closed for the holidays and families bathed, groomed, and donned new clothes. With the entire city illuminated by lanterns and the burning of imitation paper money, sweets were offered on domestic altars to ancestors and gods. Families then gathered for dinner, and elders gave cash gifts, or Hongbao, which literally means red envelopes, to members of the younger generation as well as servants. By custom, all outstanding debts from the previous year were to be paid on this day.
After dinner, the whole family was expected to stay up all night. Between 11 pm and 7 am incense and candles were lit, paper money was burnt and fireworks set off, and offerings were made to the gods. In the morning, families assembled to pay respects to their ancestors, before younger generations kowtowed in front of their elders. After breakfast, formal attire was dawned and visits were paid to relatives and friends. On the sixth day married women returned to their parent’s home for a visit (in present-day China and Taiwan, this occurs on the second day). Finally, on the fifteenth day the “Lantern Festival” was held, when festive lanterns were strung throughout the city. On the eve of the Lantern Festival women walked openly in the streets and took part in customs aimed at attaining good fortune in marriage and childbirth; Daoist priests conducted elaborate rituals in the temples; operas and music were performed; further offerings were made to the ancestors; and of course, feasting ensued.
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2014 is the year of the horse. While western zodiac symbols represent twelve periods within a single year, the twelve creatures of the Chinese zodiac each represent one year of a twelve-year cycle: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Boasting at least 2000 years of history, the zodiacs correspond to the twelve-year cycle that is part of the traditional Chinese calendar. Like western zodiacs, each of the Chinese zodiac symbols are seen as embodying certain characteristics, and a person’s character is said to reflect his or her zodiac symbol. It follows that the zodiac symbols can predict the compatibility of potential couples. It is inauspicious for one’s zodiac symbol to correspond with the zodiac of the current year. Because 2014 is the year of the horse, those whose zodiac symbol is the horse will have to be extra careful, as Chinese believe those who share the current zodiac sign will face unprecedented challenges during the year!
We hope you enjoyed learning about Chinese zodiacs and traditional New Years festivities in Kdan’s hometown, Tainan. As Kdan continues to provide cutting-edge software to users across the globe, we look forward to learning more about the cultural traditions that bring meaning, joy and a sense of belonging to people the world over.