While many of us already toasted with champagne and stayed up late watching fireworks to say goodbye to 2020, established goals and set resolutions, in one culture the New Year is only just approaching. Chinese New Year, sometimes referred to as Lunar New Year, is the most important holiday. This year, Chinese New Year takes place on Friday, February 12th.
You are probably familiar with the Chinese zodiac from seeing it referenced in films or in décor at your favorite Chinese businesses. Did you know each year one sign is honored? This year we celebrate the Year of the Ox. There is so much more to Chinese New Year than just “what animal are you?” Ancient myths tell the story of the signs and teach us important lessons. Here is the history behind the zodiac, traits for those who were born in the Year of the Ox, and some of our NuTraditions team’s favorite traditions.
Tied with the lunar calendar, Chinese New Year honors the household, heavenly deities and ancestors. Families come together to celebrate with feasting and celebrations. While that might look a little different this year due to COVID-19, the Chinese community is still welcoming the Year of the Ox.
The Chinese zodiac is an essential part of culture with a history of more than 2,000 years. Chinese people believe the zodiac chart’s animals influence everything from your personality to career, marriage and fortune. Unlike astrology and horoscopes you might be more familiar with, the Chinese zodiac is based on a 12-year cycle. Everyone born in the year is the same sign, instead of the monthly cycles we use in the western world.
If you were born in 1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021, you are officially in Ox!
According to an ancient myth, the Jade Emperor hosted a party and invited the animals of the Chinese zodiac – everything from the Sheep and Rabbit to the Dragon and Tiger. The order of the zodiac was then set based on the arrival of each to the party. The Ox was originally the first animal, before the Rat tricked the Ox into giving him a ride and landing ahead of the Ox.
Legend has it, in ancient times, the Ox worked as a servant of the Jade Emperor and traveled between earth and heaven. One day on earth, a farmer asked the Ox to take a message that the Earth needed more beauty to the Jade Emperor. Because of that, the Emperor gave the Ox an opportunity to plant seeds of grass, however, the Ox mistakenly planted too much. This led to weed growth and the farmers could not harvest their crops. As the Ox is an honest animal, he corrected his mistake, removed the weeds and won the praise of the people and the Jade Emperor.
Oxen are believed to be hard workers and the animal is highly valued in China. The Ox is known for its role in agriculture and is deemed intelligent, reliable and honest. The Chinese say people born in the Year of the Ox are fair, calm and patient. At NuTraditions®, we believe calmness and patience are essential traits to living your best life, especially important after all the trials and change we experienced in 2020.
While animals are based on a 12-year cycle, each year has a different “element” to identify specific traits of those born in that year. Additionally, animals are classified as either Yin or Yang to balance each other out and establish traits and compatibility. The Ox is a Yin animal. Other yin signs include: Rooster, Rabbit, Pig, Snake, Ox, and Goat. And, Yang signs, include: Monkey, Tiger, Rat, Horse, Dragon, and Dog.
This year, the Yin element is Metal. The Metal element is synonymous with discipline, loyalty and fair appreciation. Experts suggest this means that this year it is essential to carefully plan and take your time. This will lead to a positive, long-lasting effect. This is set to be a year of prosperity and gains, nevertheless, it will have its share of obstacles to overcome.
One of our favorite parts of Chinese New Year is the meal. For dinner, you can expect lucky foods that are traditionally served for the New Year. These include fish to represent increased prosperity, dumplings and spring rolls for wealth, fruit for good fortune and noodles for longevity and happiness.
For dessert, our favorite is a red dates and snow fungus sweet soup. This dish is commonly served in the winter as snow fungus and lily bulbs are believed to help hydrate the body. Some believe red dates are a lucky fruit bringing wealth and prosperity, and dried longan symbolizes reuniting with loved ones. In addition, red dates and goji berries are superfoods helping you stay energized. We want to share our recipe of this dessert featuring superfoods and some of our favorite herbs.
Red Dates and Snow Fungus Sweet Soup
- Snow fungus 雪耳/银耳
- Dried red dates 红枣
- Goji berries 枸杞
- Lily bulbs 百合
- Dried longan 干桂圆
- Rock sugar 冰糖
- Soak snow fungus in water overnight or for a minimum of six hours until it is rehydrated and soft. Trim off the impurities and tear into bite-size pieces.
- Cut dried red dates into halves and remove the seed.
- Rinse goji berries until clean.
- Rinse lily bulbs and remove the stem in the middle to avoid bitterness.
- Add the snow fungus into a pot filled with cold water, set on your stove to boil.
- Wait until the snow fungus and water starts to boil then add the rest of the ingredients.
- Let the mixture simmer on low heat for an hour. The snow fungus will slowly release starch and thicken the mixture.
- Add a serving to your bowl, the dessert can be served either hot or cold.
Now you know the history behind Chinese New Year, it’s time to plan a way to celebrate. Even if you do not usually celebrate Chinese traditions, there are still ways to appreciate the holiday. First, find your zodiac sign and element. Then, we suggest getting an early start on spring cleaning. Declutter your home to welcome the New Year, sweep out bad luck and make room for fortune. Like Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Chinese New Year is all about balance and optimizing your body and mind for a positive future.
*P.S. Did you see the lovely Ox above? It is hand done. Yes, you read that right. Our team made it out of a variety of herbs found in our products – about 20 pounds of ingredients – including organic red ginseng, jujube seed, licorice root and poria as a way to welcome 2021. It took two weeks to plan and about two working days to make (see our time lapse below), including hand drawing the stencil, laying and gluing the herbs in place, and, of course, photographing the final result.