Welcome to 2021—a Year of the Ox! If you’re not familiar with the Chinese zodiac, this might seem like a strange phrase. But as the Hollister children learn from their new Chinese-American friends in The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery in Skyscraper City, people in China and in Chinese communities around the world have their own unique New Year’s celebrations each year—and even have their own zodiac animals!
Chinese New Year
Also known as the Lunar New Year or Chūn Jié, the Chinese New Year is China’s most important holiday. The traditions go back to the Shang Dynasty, which began in 1600 B.C. During early versions of the Chinese New Year, people welcomed in the new spring season with sacrifices to gods and ancestors.
Some early traditions also revolved around a monster called Nian, who could be appeased with offerings of food. It was also said that Nian could be scared away with loud noises or the color red. This myth is likely why modern Chinese New Year celebrations often include firecrackers and bright red lanterns.
Today, Chinese New Year celebrations tend to be more focused on entertainment rather than religion or tradition. The celebrations, which are also celebrated in many Chinese American communities like New York City’s Chinatown, last for fifteen days, though the biggest day of celebrations is the first day. During the New Year festivities, people dance and march in parades, which often feature elaborate dragon costumes. The color red is also frequently featured in decorations and is said to represent luck, abundance, and happiness in the new year. Children may also receive small red envelopes, called hong bao in Mandarin, which contain money.
Revelers enjoy traditional Chinese foods, like a sweet rice ball soup called jiu niang tang, and cakes made out of ground rice. Duck and pork dishes are also popular during Chinese New Year celebrations, along with “Eight Treasures Rice,” which contains dry fruits, walnuts, sweet bean paste, and almonds.
Just as different months are assigned a unique zodiac symbol in Western culture, like Cancer or Virgo, each year is represented by a different creature in the Chinese zodiac. There are twelve different animals in the Chinese zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, pig, and dog. Each sign has different characteristics, and people born during that year are said to display the personality of their zodiac animal. That means that someone born in 2021 might have characteristic associated with an ox, like strength, determination, and dependability.
During a visit to Chinatown in The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery in Skyscraper City, the Hollister children learn about their own Chinese zodiac animal. They also have a good laugh when they learn that their hometown bully, Joey Brill, was born in the year of the rat. Although rats are often considered dirty and unpleasant in Western culture, the rat is more revered in the Chinese zodiac; in fact, people born in years of the rat are said to be quick-witted and resourceful.
In 2021, the Chinese New Year celebrations begin on February 12th; the start date coincides with the date of the New Moon and always falls between January 21 and February 20. Like the Hollister children do in The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery in Skyscraper City, the Chinese New Year is the perfect reason to learn about Chinese culture, foods, and mythology—and to learn what animal represents your birth year!
By Libby Svenson Kennedy
Research notes, Andrew Svenson Archives of The Hollister Family Properties Trust