The Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival (春节), is traditionally celebrated for about fifteen days. It is one moment in the year when people stay together with their loved ones to reflect on the past and envision a future. Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday for people in China and for many others around the world. It's like Christmas in the west or Deepavali (Lights Festival) in India.
The 2008 Chinese New Year falls on February 7th. People in china often take weeks off to join the company of their loved ones and enjoy a feast with their friends, relatives and family members on the Lunar New Year's Eve.
The history of the Chinese New Year is so old that its origins are lost in the mists of time. But tradition says that Chinese peasants eagerly wait for this day because it is on this day that the kitchen God is supposed to depart away to the lord of heaven (known as to the Jade Emperor) to report about the family. During his absence the family members clean up the house and make a fresh start to welcome the God as well as the new promising year.
It's a custom to wear something red as this color is meant to ward off evil spirits - but black and white are out, as these are associated with mourning. After dinner, the family sit up for the night playing cards, board games or watching TV programs dedicated to the occasion (In mainland China, it's CCTV's 春节联欢晚会). At midnight, fireworks to mark the Chinese New Year welcome light up the sky.
 Rituals and Celebrations
To many Chinese, the Chinese New Year marks the day when everyone in China is a year older and steps into a new life of hope, prosperity and happiness. The preparation for the Chinese New Year actually starts about one month before the new year. Many Chinese buy presents, decoration materials, food and clothing, and then clean their houses from top to bottom, painting their doors and window panes, paying off debts, and even getting new haircuts. These traditional Chinese New Year activities symbolize new life and new hopes.
People also hang "spring couplets" (春联) around the house. Spring couplets are paper curls and squares engraved with blessings and auspicious words, such as "springtime" (春晓), "good fortune" (发财), "good health", "wealth" and "longevity". It is customary to paste them upside down as the Mandarin Chinese word signifying upside down "dao" (到), is a homonym of "arrival." Thus, the paper squares signify the "arrival" of spring and the "coming" of prosperous times. Paper lanterns are hung as they bring forth the true essence of the festivity. Decorations of the incoming zodiac animal are also displayed in the house. In China, people like to fill their house with fresh blooms and flowering plants like peach, flowering quince branches, white narcissus and chrysanthemum as they all signify good health, prosperity and happiness.
One of the popular activities on Chinese New Year is observing the custom of Hong Bao (红包), or "red packet". This involves gifting small red envelopes filled with "lucky money". These envelopes are given to children and unmarried adults by the married couples. The red color is considered to bring good fortune, and the money inside the envelope is used by them to buy holiday treats. Chinese people give a lot of importance to their family and Chinese New Year is the time of family reunion. A family feast is held where the folks of the family gather and acknowledge the spirits of their forefathers.
Tradition says that Lord Buddha had called for all the animals to come to him before he departed from the earth. When the cat got to know about the news, he told rat about it and the two animals decided to go together the next day. However, the next morning the rat did not wake up the cat. Therefore, the cat could not make it to the gathering on time and did not get a year. This is why there is no year of the cat and this is one of the reasons why cats hate rats.
Another tale says that in the distant past, time was an illusion and chaos reigned among the animals of the earth. Every creature from the cunning rat to the arrogant tiger proclaimed that he alone was the most virtuous and unique. The Jade Emperor, Lord of Heaven, needed to restore order. He would hold a great race, and the first twelve to cross the finish would be declared the First of the Earthly Creatures. The stalwart ox was seemingly destined to be the winner of the celestial race, but his perseverance would lose to the craftiness of the rat. (The wily little creature was hiding in the ox's ear and leapt out to cross the finish line ahead of him.)
 Astrology & Zodiac
The Chinese zodiac horoscope system is one of the oldest in the world of astrology. The origin of Chinese astrology dates back to the era of Shang Dynasty (商朝)–[1600 BC–1066 BC]. According to Chinese zodiac system and Chinese Lunar Calendar, the system consists of 12-year cycle with years named after 12 animals. Every year has a different zodiac and people born in a particular year falls under the same sign category. Chinese New Year 2008 belongs to Rats.
Rats mark the commencement of the cycle of 12 Chinese zodiacs and thus are associated with enterprising and aggressive qualities. To start with listing the traits of a Rat, it is important to first know what this animal image stands for in Chinese philosophy. Rat has strong associations with material success such as wealth and other luxuries of life. It is their aggression, charm, hard work, discipline and passionate nature that give an edge to their persona in comparison to others. There are good chances of Rats being wealthy and professionally successful in their lives. They are quick, energetic and mold themselves easily according to the situation, which makes them excellent problem solvers too. Unlike most of other zodiac signs, Rats believe in having a handful of friends, but they share a special bonding with all of them.
When it comes to competition, nobody can be as manipulative as they are. They are tactful and can go to great extents to win a battle. Yet honesty and unprejudiced attitude is something others need to learn from Rats. A heavy karma chakra may lead to inner conflicts. It is likely for them to indulge in speculation and other adventurous tasks in order to give an outlet to their emotions. If this kind of an outlet is not available, they might turn to self-destruction. The best spiritual message Chinese sages give to Rats is to observe self-control and be considerate while dealing with people around them. Their dynamism can be accessed with the diversity of professions they can choose. On one hand they can lend perfection to works of art in literature, on the other hand they can also be excellent detectives, accountants, engineers and pathologists. Law and politics are some other areas they can try their hands on. Hope this year of Rats 2008 becomes the harbinger of health, wealth and good fortune for all of us. Following are the years that belong to the mighty Rats.
Rats: 1900, 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020 (Keep adding 12 years in the series)
Lantern Festival, also called Yuanxiao (元宵) festival in China, occurs fifteenth day of the first lunar month. This is the first full moon of the new year, symbolizing unity and perfection. Lantern Festival marks the official end of the long holiday. There are puzzles on the lanterns for people to solve. It's a tradition that families and friends united in the joyful atmosphere, eating Yuanxiao (glutinous rice ball), also called Tangyuan, which literally means "boiled spheres.".
There are several different legends about the origin of the Lantern Festival.