Chinese New Year and the Year of the Dog
Happy new year everyone! (And not just the new year that started on January 1st). Happy Chinese (lunar) New Year too!
Unlike the Western new year we celebrate here in North America, which is based on the Gregorian calendar, Chinese New year is celebrated based on the lunar calendar. This means that the exact date of new years day differs from year to year, but usually occurs sometime between January 21 and February 20.
This year, Chinese New Year fell on February 16, 2018. Associated with each year is a Chinese zodiac animal and this year it’s the year of the dog. There are 12 Chinese zodiac animals so every 12 years, the cycle begins anew. This means that the last year of the dog was in 2006, and the next one will be in 2030. In addition to the 12 zodiac animals, there are also 5 elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) that are also attributed to the zodiacs. This year is the year of the Earth dog to be specific, and the last time we had an Earth dog year was 60 years ago in 1958!
According to Chinese astrology, people born under different zodiac animals tend to have different personality traits.
Year of the dog :
We all know that dogs are fiercely loyal, have a positive attitude, and an endless supply of love. People born in the year of the dog are said to share these traits. They are kind, honest, and easygoing, yet fight for what they believe in and they are always ready to lend a helping hand. However, they can also be stubborn and rigid in their beliefs. They can have difficulty communicating and may tend to become irritable and fall into pessimism when they feel doubt.
Additionally, Earth dogs in particular are extremely hardworking, disciplined, and never give up. Despite how focused they are on their goals, they will never compromise their values for anything. They believe that as long as they work hard towards their goal, they will succeed. Earth Dogs have a pure spirit and despite their stubbornness, they respect other people’s perspectives, believing in the “live and let live” philosophy. This separates them from other Dogs, who can tend to be more judgmental by nature.
Chinese New Year (CNY) is the biggest holiday celebrated in China and many other Asian countries. CNY is also called the Spring Festival and is a period of celebration lasting around 15 days (from the lunar New Year’s Eve to the 15th day of the first lunar month).
CNY is a time for families to get together and celebrate. There are many traditions and celebrations that are observed during this period such as lion dances and setting off firecrackers and fireworks. Red decorations are also put up all over the house to welcome in good luck and keep out evil spirits, and red pockets with “lucky money” are given out to children for prosperity in the coming year. A traditional reunion dinner is held on New Year’s Eve as a time to get together with the whole family.
Special foods are made and eaten at this time to ensure a prosperous new year. These foods are chosen due to their auspicious symbolism based on either their pronunciation or their appearance.
Foods and their meanings:
- Noodles: Happiness and longevity – The long continuous strands of noodles represent long life.
- Dumplings: Wealth – Dumplings resemble Chinese silver or gold ingots which were boat shaped instead of bar-shaped.
- Spring rolls: Wealth – Similar in appearance to gold bars.
- Fish: Increase in prosperity – There is a Chinese saying of “nian nian you yu”. “Nian年” means year, “you有” means to have, and “yu鱼” means fish. Therefore, this phrase translates to “having fish every year”. However, the word “yu余” with a different character but same sound, also means “having more than one needs every year” or “surplus”. So really, this phrase is used to wish people abundance and prosperity in the new year.
- Nian Gao (glutinous rice cake): Higher income or status – The saying that accompanies this dish is “nian nian gao”. “Nian年”, as we saw from above, means year, and “gao糕” means cake. But “gao高” also means “high or tall” when written as a different character. Therefore, the phrase associated with this cake means wishing you an increase in income and status year after year.
- Tangerines, oranges, and pomelos: Fullness and wealth – The Chinese name for tangerine, “cheng橙”, sounds identical to the word for success (成). A portion of the character for orange “ju桔”, has the word “ji吉” in it which means good luck. The Chinese word for pomelos is “you柚”, which is similar in sound to the word for “to have有”.
- Yuan Xiao/Tang Yuan (glutinous sweet rice balls): Family togetherness – The shape of these glutinous rice balls are round, symbolizing harmony and family togetherness. These are mainly eaten during Lantern Festival which is the last day of the New Year celebrations.
Now although the start of Chinese New year has come and gone, the festivities are not yet over and there is still time to celebrate. As mentioned above, the Spring Festival celebration ends with the Lantern festival, which is on March 2nd this year. The lantern festival falls on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month and is also called “Yuan Xiao Jie” (Yuan Xiao festival). Coincidently, or not so coincidently since CNY is based on the lunar calendar, this day is also the day of the first full moon of the new year. People eat the sweet glutinous rice balls (aka tang yuan) brewed in a soup to symbolize the coming together of family and for a prosperous new year.
Tips for the new year:
As the new year begins and winter is coming to a close, we must still stay vigilant and keep our bodies healthy. Especially for people who were born in the year of the dog. According to Chinese astrology, years that share your birth sign are thought to bring a bit of bad luck. No need to worry though, this just means that people born under the dog zodiac just need to take extra care of themselves, stay calm, and try to relax during this time. A good excuse to give yourself some extra TLC don’t you think?
Now with winter still hanging on for a bit longer, that means that cold and flus are still making their rounds and people are more susceptible to getting sick from them. Acupuncture and diet therapy are good ways to keep your immune system strong and to relieve the symptoms of colds and flus if you do happen to get sick. Below, I have included some acupoints useful for relieving common symptoms of colds, and also a simple and delicious recipe for a traditional remedy to soothe sore throats and coughs.
Stuffy or runny nose: LI20, DU23
Head and face symptoms (sinus issues, headaches, itchy eyes, etc.): LI4, Tai Yang, GB20
Sore throat or cough: LU10
*All acupuncture diagrams are reprinted or adapted from A Manual of Acupuncture by P. Deadman and M. Al-Khafaji, 2000, England: Journal of Chinese Medicine Publications. Copyright 2000 by Journal of Chinese Medicine Publications.
You can perform self-acupressure on each of the acupoints by pressing down with the tip of your fingers or nails and applying steady pressure to each point until you feel some soreness. Hold each point for about 30 seconds to 1 minute and repeat 3-4 times. These points can be pressed on both sides of the body and stimulated multiple times a day as needed.
Pear and rock sugar recipe to soothe sore throat and cough:
This tasty remedy is very popular and commonly used in Chinese households and helps to reduce phlegm, clear heat, and moisten the lungs. In other words, reduce excessive phlegm, soothe an irritated throat, reduce cough and fever, and prevent dehydration of the respiratory tract.
The ingredients and their specific functions include:
Asian pear: cooling, nourishes Lungs, moistens dryness
Rock sugar: clears heat, moistens and nourishes the Lungs
- Chen pi (aged tangerine peel): dissolves phlegm, dries dampness
- Goji berries: tonifying yin herb, moistens lung, benefits the eyes
- White fungus/wood ear (aka Yin Er or Tremella): nourishes the lungs, yin, and generates fluids- for dry cough
- Steamed pear with rock sugar recipe:
Usually, there are no exact measurements for the ingredients as it was traditionally made by feeling/taste. But for those of you who like to start off with a recipe, here is a general quantity guideline you can follow. Once you have made this a couple of times and get the hang of it, feel free to modify the quantities of ingredients to taste, or according to the specific symptoms you wish to focus on.
- 1 pear
- 5g to 10g rock sugar (or to taste, or can eliminate this ingredient entirely if you are not a fan of added sugar. Can substitute with honey as well.)
- Skin the pear. Cut the top of the pear off (horizontally), remove the core, and hollow out the middle to create a “bowl”. Save the top part to be used as a lid in the next step.
- Place the bottom part of the pear in a bowl. Then put the rock sugar in the center of the hollowed-out pear and place the top part of the pear back on (like a lid to cover the hole).
- Place the bowl with pear in a steamer and steam for 8 to 15 minutes.
The dish is ready when the color of pear turns slightly transparent and is tender to the touch.
- You can eat the ingredients and drink the liquid as well.
Other ingredients such as Goji (Gou Qi) berries or Chen Pi (aged tangerine peel) can be added to the hole at the center with the rock sugar before steaming (3g to 10g).
- Chen Pi can be added to help reduce excessive phlegm.
- Goji berries can be added for eye issues such as dry, itchy eyes, or excessively tearing eyes, etc.
- Yin Er (White fungus) can be added for dry coughs or dry throat, and can be placed at the side of the pear before steaming.
Feel free to modify this recipe to your liking and taste, as it is full of good ingredients and you can’t go wrong whichever way you make it!
This recipe can also be made by placing all the ingredients together in a pot and boiling with a little bit of water.
This method is useful when making larger quantities for the whole family and any unused portions can be refrigerated and warmed up to eat/drink at a later time.
I hope this a post has given you some insight into the traditions around Chinese New Year and also some tools to help make it through the rest of winter and bring you some relief if you do happen to get sick. Feel free to contact me if you have any question and if you do try these remedies, please let me know how they work out for you.
I wish you a happy lantern festival and may the new year bring good health and fortune to you and yours!