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On Monday, February 8, millions of people across the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year. Also known as Spring Festival, it marks the beginning of the year 4714 and is the longest and most important Asian celebration. The revered tradition whose date is determined by the lunar calendar signifies the end of the dreary winter season and the beginning of spring.
The festivities begin on New Year's Eve and continue for fifteen days. During this time, people spring clean their homes and businesses and reunite with friends and family members. Not surprisingly, it is the largest annual human migration in the world as millions of people in China make their way home. For many, it is the only time of the year to see their families. Red, which symbolizes fire is considered auspicious and also believed to keep evil spirits at bay. It is, therefore, the color of choice for clothes and decorations. Kids and young adults also receive red envelopes filled with money.
The festivities end on the day of the full moon with a Lantern Festival. To celebrate the event, revelers hang red lanterns in their homes and at temples and also participate in parades. The highlight of the day is the dragon dance which entails people marching through the streets carrying a colorful dragon made of silk and paper.
Like all Asian festivals, food plays a crucial role in the celebrations. The items that comprise the traditional meal signify different things. Long uncut noodles represent a long life, while whole chickens symbolize family togetherness. Wealth and prosperity are represented by dumplings that look like ingots (ancient Chinese currency) and spring rolls which resemble gold bars.
Each Chinese year is also characterized by one of twelve animals that are part of the Chinese Zodiac as well as one of five elements: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire or Earth. Both the sign and element are believed to affect an individual's personality and fate.
2016 is the 'Year of the Fire Monkey.' People born under this sign are mischievous, ambitious and adventurous. However, they tend to be irritable especially around people who are not as intelligent. Hong Kong Feng Shui expert Louis Wong cautions those born under this sign to be careful about their career and wealth this year.
The Chinese also believe that the animal has some influence on how the year will go for the world in general. Wong, warns of numerous fires, especially in the forests. He also believes Southeast Asia will be impacted by new viruses or diseases. Though these predictions sound dire, overall the 'Year of the Monkey' is considered to be more auspicious than its predecessor, the 'Year of the Sheep/Goat.'
Though commonly known as 'Chinese New Year,' the day is also celebrated in neighboring Asian countries like Thailand and Singapore. In Vietnam, the New Year is called 'Tet' and while the traditions are similar, the celebrations last for just seven days.