Last Saturday on January 28, Chinese New Year came fire-cracking in—cymbals clashing, brightly scaled dragons roving the streets, and the most vivid explosions of all shades red and yellow. Traditionally, these celebrations last up to three weeks, and welcoming in 2017 means that we’re celebrating the year of the proud, crimson-combed rooster.
I’m excited to share some fun facts about Chinese New Year and the Year of the Rooster with you—and some savvy locals-only tips (shhhh) for how to continue to ring in the Chinese New Year, LA-style!
What exactly is Chinese New Year?
Historically, China followed its own calendar—different than the one developed by the West. The Chinese calendar dates back to around the 14th century BC, making it much, much older than the Gregorian calendar used in the U.S. and most of the world. And although the modern-day Chinese no longer use the traditional Chinese calendar, it still holds cultural significance and determines the dates of celebrations like Chinese New Year. Read on for more interesting nuggets about this celebratory time of year!
The Myth of Nian and the Birth of Chinese New Year
Legend has it that many centuries ago a great monster called Nian, or “Year” in English, ravaged a small village in China towards the end of the winter months when food was scarce, feasting on the people who lived there. One day, a brave old man visited the village, decorated himself with bright red paper, armed himself with firecrackers, and went to brave the beast. Everyone else in the village thought he was a lunatic and a fool.
But the loud noises and the color red drove Nian away, much to the villagers’ surprise! Every year thereafter at this time of year, the villagers would festoon everything in red and set firecrackers hissing and screaming the air. Nian never returned, and the yearly ritual eventually turned into a celebration observed throughout China—and around the world.
What is the Chinese Zodiac?
The Chinese Zodiac features twelve animals, one for every year in the lunar calendar, making up a twelve-year cycle. The ancient tale of The Great Race tells of a dozen animals who all set out to cross a stream. The quickest one to make it across was the Rat. Then came the Ox, Tiger, and Rabbit. Next, the Dragon flew over, followed by the Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and, finally, the Pig. They all tried different ways of getting across the stream, with some of them helping each other or lingering along the way. The order that the animals made it across determined the order of what is now known as the Chinese Zodiac.
So, if you were born in the following years: 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, then the Rooster is your Chinese Zodiac sign. But remember that your birth year needs to be based on the Chinese, or lunar, calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar. The lunar year generally starts between January 21 and February 20 of each year, depending on the moon cycle and whether it’s a leap year or not—check out this guide for more details on how it works!
According to the Chinese Zodiac, the year of your animal may be filled with bad luck, so be careful about your decisions and actions during that time (hint: it might not be the best year to make any dramatic changes in your life)!
What are the Qualities of the Rooster?
According to the Chinese Zodiac, those of you lucky enough to be born in a Rooster Year are hardworking and honest people who are confident in your abilities, love to talk, and enjoy spending time with others.
But because in Chinese culture every year is not only associated with an animal, but also an element, if you’ve just had a little one or know of someone who has, then he or she is a Fire Rooster. And if you were born in 1957, you’re a Fire Rooster also!
In addition to the qualities of the Rooster I’ve already mentioned, a Fire Rooster is even more active, motivated, and successful, but with a fiery temper to accompany those traits, and a zeal for his or her own ideas. Watch out, new parents!!!
How to Celebrate the Chinese New Year in LA Style
If you’re anything like me, you’ll take any excuse to celebrate! Let’s talk about some great spots in L.A. to dazzle and be dazzled in celebration of the Chinese New Year. These are some of my personal L.A.-local favs!If you’re a lover of the arts, the galleries along Chung King Road in Chinatown, off the 110 Freeway by the Hill Street exit, feature a fabulous variety of styles and pieces. This narrow street is mostly quiet by day, but these galleries have been known to throw some unforgettable parties for the art aficionado crowd by night. From the Charlie James Gallery to the Red Pipe Gallery to Automata, your creative side is sure to be sparked by these innovative spaces!
Another one of my frequent haunts is the Chinese American Museum, located at 425 N Los Angeles St. The museum is housed in the oldest structure of L.A.’s original Chinatown, and does a lovely job curating and preserving the rich heritage of Chinese Americans.
Finally, no celebration is complete without some fabulous food. Luckily, L.A. is home to some of the best Chinese restaurants in the country. Yang Chow is a beloved fixture in the heart of Chinatown that’s proven its mastery of Chinese cuisine over the decades. And for some amazing dim sum, don’t miss Lunasia—it’s well worth the trek to Alhambra!
I hope you enjoy the scenery and soak up the history of Chinese Americans’ deep roots in L.A. Wishing you a Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year!