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The Chinese New Year is a worldwide celebration

Folded gold paper representing gold bars is an offering to the gods; food is also used to worship them.

By Javier Muñiz

Special to The Star

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, is a holiday that thousands of people observe around the globe. The festival can fall anytime from Jan. 21 until Feb. 20 since it is based on the lunisolar calendar.

The Chinese New Year is welcomed with the arrival of the new moon; therefore, for 2024 it fell on Feb. 10. Starting on this auspicious day and continuing until the 24th of the month, many activities were performed to replace the bad and the old with the new and good.

Planting, praying to gods and praying to the ancestors as they are also perceived as celestial beings are some of the activities people tend to observe. The family reunions, the food and the exchange of red envelopes with “lucky” money are common practices for welcoming the new year and warmer days.

Wearing red clothing, cleaning the house, taking special baths and even staying in the house for the first five days are other unique Chinese New Year traditions performed by many people around the world. Many of these rituals are linked to folktales and people perform them to attract good luck and wealth, while others practice them to keep the bad energy away.

There’s a popular legend about a monster called Nian that played an important part in the 15 or 16 days of celebration. The mythological creature used to terrify the people of a village during the first days of the year. Everyone would hide since the beast would roam around eating people and creating chaos. Until one day someone confronted Nian using red decorations and firecrackers. The next morning the villagers were surprised to discover that there was no damage done in the village. Later they learned that the monster was afraid of the color red and disliked loud noises.

Some versions identify the brave villager as an elder or deity, while others present the savior as a kid. Ever since, the tradition has been adopted by villagers who decorate the town in red, bang on drums and use firecrackers to keep Nian away.

Today, people still celebrate the Chinese New Year worldwide, and while in Puerto Rico the festival is not observed, islanders are no stranger to its traditions.

Compared with South American countries, not many Chinese immigrants have settled in Puerto Rico.

José Lee Borges, a historian whose father was Chinese and mother was Cuban, arrived in Puerto Rico with his family as a child.

“The number of Chinese in Puerto Rico was not a threat because of their small numbers in comparison to Peru or Cuba,” Lee said. “The Chinatowns were created as a way for them to protect themselves. This way they could watch each other’s backs;here in Puerto Rico they spread all around to open different businesses.”

Lee also noted that “we established on the island in the [19]70s.” No formal activities were held for the Chinese New Year, only small gatherings at restaurants or homes among relatives and close friends.”

One tradition he does remember is the lucky money in the red envelopes. As he points out, “it could be 5, 10 or even 20 dollars, since the Chinese are firm believers in the adage that says the more you give the more you receive.”

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