This year, it’s the monkey’s turn

Today is the first day in the Year of the Monkey, so break out the firecrackers and try not to cry, speak of death or eat too little.

“It’s a very big event. No matter how poor you are, you prepare a big dinner because if you don’t eat well that night, they say you will not eat well all year,” said Dajin Peng, a USF international studies professor from China.

This superstition begins the New Year, a two-week celebration in which it was once fabled that whatever you do during that time you would do all year. Peng said these superstitions are no longer believed, but Chinese use them in jest.

The Chinese New Year always falls on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice, Peng said. The celebration lasts until the first full moon, the 15th day, which is the lantern festival. Chinese hang lanterns in order to celebrate the full moon and people will try to solve the puzzles on the lanterns and eat “yuanxiao,” or rice balls.

“The celebration of the New Year is like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter all together,” Peng said. Children receive big gifts and families and friends gather for social events.

Bingsheng Yi, a finance professor at USF, said he has already called his family in China to wish them luck in the New Year. He called early this year because last year he called at 6 a.m. and was unable to connect because so many people were calling China.

Chinese people have strong family concepts, Yi said.

“We like to be united at this special moment of the year. If you can’t be together you have to do it in some other form, through e-mail or telephones.”

Food and family are integral parts of the New Year’s festival for Yi.

“Usually, my family will meet together; brothers, sisters-in-law, grandparents, the whole family to celebrate on New Year’s Eve. We have a huge dinner with special dishes just for the event,” Yi said.

As a New Year’s Eve tradition, there are many dishes Chinese people eat, such as “eight treasure rice.” According to, “eight treasure rice” depicts the almost spiritual significance of rice to the Chinese people. It includes chicken, Chinese sausage, mushrooms, lotus seeds, shrimp, scallions, onion and bamboo shoots.

Peanuts are eaten because they signal prosperity, sweet ingredients signal happiness and union and fish is a traditional meal because the fish means extra blessings in the New Year.

Peng said new trends have developed, such as families eating at restaurants on New Year’s Eve and buying new clothes. He attributes this to China’s surging economy.

“They don’t eat as much as they once did (on New Year’s Eve) because they eat well all year,” Peng said.

According to the Xinhua news agency, monkey stuffed animals and decorations are everywhere, contributing to the consuming craze.

Emily Chen, a USF student from Taiwan, said she planned to buy new clothes for the New Year. But instead of feasting on New Year’s Eve, she will be in class.

“I haven’t really celebrated in the eight years since I came to this country,” Chen said.

In China, it is customary for workers to receive a week’s vacation, and students begin a month-long winter break.

“It’s still an important tradition, but it doesn’t have the same connotations as before,” said Peng, who will celebrate Chinese New Year tonight instead of New Year’s Eve because he has a class to teach.

Staff Writer Sandra Serrano contributed to this report.