The Chinese New Year is one of China’s oldest festivals, with records of it going back as far as the 14th century BC. As its date falls so differently to the New Year celebrated in the Western world, an explanation will help us to understand why that’s so. It’s believed that Emperor Huangdi introduced the lunar calendar, based on the lunisolar cycle. This observes the moon phases and solar years to determine the exact date that Chinese New Year falls on, which will always be between 21st January and 21st February.
The Chinese New Years are named after animals because of the Chinese zodiac, Shengxiao. It is a recurring 12 year cycle of 12 animals, an animal representing each year. This year is the Year of the Horse, the last year of the Horse was 2002 and the next 2026. The rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig all make up the Chinese zodiac. Each animal links to one of the five elements – Wood, Earth, Fire, Water or Metal – which is why it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Year of the Wood Horse’.
This year the New Year falls on Friday 31st January 2014 when celebrations will mark the year 4712 on the Chinese calendar. Here at The Royal Mint we are celebrating the Year of the Horse with the first ever UK legal tender Lunar coins.
Chinese New Year Traditions
Loved ones reunite at the New Year and happily celebrate together abiding by traditions that will hopefully bring good fortune to everyone during the year ahead. Houses are cleaned from top to bottom, symbolising the sweeping away of bad luck and making way for the good luck the New Year will bring. Spring-cleaning is always a good idea, anyway, so even better if it bring some good luck as well as a clean house!
An important part of the Chinese New Year festivities is the gifting of “lucky money” in red envelopes. The red colour symbolises good luck and is supposed to ward of evil spirits. The envelopes should be unsigned, given and received with both hands and NOT opened in front of the giver. I must say, to me that seems good manners in any culture! Good or bad luck beliefs also determine the amount of money in the envelope, always a sensitive subject. Ideally, the amount should end with an even digit, again to bring good luck. Odd-numbered money gifts would be given at funerals, having unhappy connotations, so best avoided.
So what does the Year of the Horse mean?
People born under this zodiac sign are said to be able, energetic, bright, warm-hearted and intelligent. They are also believed to be excellent communicators who enjoy the limelight, generally associated with success, so it’s easy to imagine that they will experience a year of health and prosperity, as is forecast. It’s also due to be a lucky year and an excellent time to travel, so it looks like ‘Horses’ have got a great year to look forward to! In Chinese culture, talented people, such as those born in a Year of the Horse, are sometimes referred to as ‘Qianli Ma’, a horse that can cover great distances over long periods of time. In fact, the spirit of the horse is said to reflect the Chinese people’s admirable ethos in general – making unremitting efforts to improve themselves.
The Royal Mint Lunar collection
For the first time in our history we will mark the Chinese New Year in 2014 with a range of Lunar coins. The Shēngxiào Collection, named to honor the Chinese zodiac, is the perfect way to wish good luck and fortune to its recipients. The designer of the Shēngxiào Collection is Wuon-Gean Ho, an artist of Chinese descent who was born in the UK. You can browse the collection at The Royal Mint website.