The year of the horse will soon be under starters orders and, for the Chinese community in Reading, it’s a time to be together.
Legend has it that each year has an animal associated with it because Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on New Year’s Day. Only 12 turned up and he named a year after those that came. The animals in the Chinese calendar are the dog, pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, and rooster.
The Chinese calendar is the oldest in the world so, rather than 2014 as it is for us, the year is 4712.
Chinese New Year is a time for enjoying good food with your family.
Red features prominently in the celebrations: Children are given Lucky Money in red envelopes and everyone wears their best red clothes. The colour red symbolises fire which legend says drives away bad luck.
Friends and family meet for shared meals and even the food served has a secret meaning. If you want a long life eat noodles, egg rolls for wealth, if you eat chicken you will find happiness and marriage and if you want a lot of children eat seeds.
After two weeks the celebrations end with Teng Chieh, the Lantern Festival. Chinese lanterns are lit and carried around. They are turned into works of art by being painted with pictures of birds, animals, flowers and scenes from legend and history.
The highlight of the Lantern Festival is the Dragon Dance. Some dragons are 100ft long and made of silk, paper, and bamboo with people underneath to make the dragon dance.
A New Year celebration wouldn’t be the same without fireworks and the custom started because it was believed that flames and noise would frighten evil spirits away.
The Chinese community in the Thames Valley enjoys celebrating and a one such gathering can be found at Reading Chinese Christian Church (RCCC).
“RCCC started life as a Bible study group in 1971 and have been meeting at Wycliffe Baptist Church, King’s Road, Reading for 27 years,” said Dr Xiao Xian Chen, Chair of the group.
RCCC uses Chinese New Year to reach out to as many people as possible.
“There are over 60 Chinese takeaway shops in our area and many Chinese speaking university students. Each is invited to all the special events we are arranging,” said Dr Xiao Xian.
“This year we have speakers coming from the United States. At the end of January we will be celebrating the traditional Chinese Spring Festival with a speaker from Canada.”
The church is flourishing, as Dr Xiao Xian explains.
“RCCC has 100 members,” he said. “Most people come from mainland China and Hong Kong as well as Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.”
And with the New Year event about to get under way, you can be sure that the fellowship will keep galloping along in years to come.
The students and teachers at Reading Chinese School are also excited about Chinese New Year. “We have held Chinese New Year celebrations in the past and they are a highlight event at the school” said Dr Yan Liu, Headteacher.
For the first time this year, the celebration will be open to the public.
“It will provide an opportunity for people from the wider community to learn about Chinese culture,” he explained.
There will be workshops where you can learn traditional Chinese dance and kung fu, Chinese painting, calligraphy, origami and how to play Guzheng, a traditional Chinese Instrument
The lion dance will be performed and the students will be staging Chinese song and dance.
The school started 35 years ago with 10 students, it now has 200 students and 17 classes where people from five years old to adult can learn Mandarin or Cantonese.
“Our aim is to provide an education in the Chinese language and culture for people of all ages and backgrounds,” Dr Yan Liu said.
If you are interested in learning Mandarin or Cantonese email Dr Yan Liu at firstname.lastname@example.org. The school meets on Sundays at Highdown School, Emmer Green.
For more on the Reading Chinese Christian Church, visit www.rccf.org.uk.