Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Saddle up for Year of the Horse

Romance, marriages and babies, but also bad weather, disease and political change could come galloping in

Feng shui master James Dong says the Year of the Horse's double spring makes it a good time to get married. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Feng shui master James Dong says the Year of the Horse's double spring makes it a good time to get married. Photo / Sarah Ivey

More than 200,000 Chinese and Koreans here joined over a billion others around the globe in welcoming the Year of the Horse overnight.

But tonight, the "gates of heavens" will open for Cai Shen Ye - the God of Fortune - to descend from the skies and land in the City of Sails.

Today is the first day of the Wooden Horse Year, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, and celebrations will continue until the lantern festival, held on the 15th day of the lunar month.

Geomancers and feng shui masters are predicting the year to bring romance, marriages and babies, but Kiwis are also being advised to saddle up as this could also be a challenging year for New Zealand.

There are two springs that fall within the Chinese lunar calendar for 2014, and under Chinese tradition "double spring" lunar years are considered good years for marriage.

Auckland feng shui master James Dong said people who married in double spring years usually enjoyed good relationships.

"This will be a very romantic year and there will be news of marriage, romance or babies for people in the 21, 23, 27, 33, 35 and 39 age groups," Mr Dong said.

"It will also be a good year, in health, luck and career for those who are aged 23, 28, 32, 35, 40, 44, 47, 52 and 56."

Mr Dong said, however, the Horse would also gallop in with periods of bad weather which might result in floods and landslides.

He also warned of a possible outbreak of communicable diseases and political changes in government that would happen this year.

"But it will be a good year for the construction and electronics industries, and people involved in creative arts," Mr Dong added.

The God of Fortune, Cai Shen, will take a SkyJump from the top of the Sky Tower tonight. Photo / Sarah Ivey
The God of Fortune, Cai Shen, will take a SkyJump from the top of the Sky Tower tonight. Photo / Sarah Ivey

University of Auckland Professor of Asian Studies Manying Ip said Chinese New Year was considered to be the most important festival by the Chinese.

"The festival dates back centuries and it is a time when families come together and when deities and ancestors are honoured," she said.

"Given the increase in the Asian population here, Chinese New Year has also become an important cultural landmark in New Zealand."

According to last year's Census figures, the combined total of New Zealanders who identified themselves as Chinese was 172,000.

There are also about 30,000 Koreans here who celebrate the festival.

"When we first came to New Zealand in the 1970s, no one even knew the date for Chinese New Year let alone celebrated it," Professor Ip said.

"It's quite astonishing that we now have everything, in keeping with tradition, from firecrackers to start and a lantern festival to end the festivities."

Professor Ip said the "non-political, non-controversial" nature of Chinese New Year meant politicians and community leaders were happy to be involved, and its popularity was further fuelled also because it fell during the warm summer months when Kiwis were still "in holiday mood".

The Year of the Horse was welcomed with a bang last night with hundreds of booming firecrackers and a lion dance performance outside Auckland's SkyCity.

But new year celebrations started with a festival and market day at the ASB Showgrounds two weeks ago and Lunar Fest at the Trusts Arena last weekend.

Tonight, the God of Fortune will be taking a "leap of prosperity" for the first time - taking a SkyJump from the top of the Sky Tower - to kick off the first public celebrations in the central city for the year.

"The idea is to show the God of Fortune coming down from the heavens to bless the city with prosperity," said event organiser Paul Young. The Chinese lion dance is considered to be a highlight, where the beating of the drum and clanging of cymbals are believed to help evict bad spirits.

At Chinese New Year, people traditionally wear red - the colour that symbolises fire and drives away bad luck - and children are given "lucky money" contained in red packets, or hong bao.

Next week, red paper lanterns will be hung across Queen St and parts of Karangahape Rd. Lanterns, Asian street food and performances from local and overseas artists return to Albert Park for the Auckland Lantern Festival from February 13-16.

The lantern festival has been part of Chinese New Year celebrations since the Han Dynasty (206BC to AD221), and is also popularly referred to as Chinese Valentine's Day.

Asia New Zealand Foundation culture director Jennifer King said the Auckland festival aimed to be "quite a nostalgic event, so that Chinese might remember what it was like back in China in the old days, maybe when they were children".

International acts that will headline this year's festival include Tang Dynasty, one of China's oldest and best known heavy metal bands, the Shanghai Jiangzhou Drum Troupe on ancient war and modern LED drums, and Chinese kite artist Guo Hongli, from Weifang.

Those born in the Year of the Horse are believed to be hardworking, sociable, energetic and witty.


Janet Chan and her husband, retired journalist Charles Chan. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Janet Chan and her husband, retired journalist Charles Chan. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Traditionalists wear red and steer well clear of the sweeping

She spring-cleans her Mt Albert home on "auspicious days" before Chinese New Year, hosts a family reunion dinner on the eve and stays up past midnight to welcome the God of Fortune.

On New Year's Day, she is dressed in red, does not sweep the floor or use sharp objects and says only sweet things.

These are some of the practices Mrs Janet Chan, 62, an ethnic Chinese immigrant from Malaysia, observes every year during Chinese New Year, believing they bring her good luck.

"Chinese New Year is different to all the other festivals because of these traditions and superstitions," said Mrs Chan, an ardent follower of feng shui, a Chinese metaphysical art.

Sweeping the floor on New Year's Day means sweeping away good luck, using sharp objects could mean "cutting away" your good fortune and black is traditionally a taboo colour to wear.

Spring cleaning, or sao chu, is considered important because it signifies "out with the old and welcome the new" and lights must stay on till the morning on New Year's Day.

In Chinese mythology, Nien, an evil monster that attacks people during the New Year, is said to be afraid of bright lights, loud noises and the colour red.

Mandarin oranges are exchanged during the New Year season because the word for them sounds like "gold" in Chinese, Mrs Chan explains.

Her husband, retired journalist Charles Chan, 72, takes a more relaxed approach, but says he still keeps New Year traditions "just to play it safe".

Mr Chan, who is the Chinese New Zealand Oral History Foundation treasurer, said the way Chinese New Year was celebrated here had "changed dramatically" over the years. "When we moved here 25 years ago, there was no New Year ornaments or snacks sold here and our celebration was just a simple family observance," he said.

Regional customs and traditions mean the festival is celebrated differently among ethnic Chinese.

Zhi Hua Cai, head chef at SkyCity's Jade Dragon restaurant. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Zhi Hua Cai, head chef at SkyCity's Jade Dragon restaurant. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Accountant Lu Yinghui, 25, from China's Guangdong province, said eating dumplings during the festive season was a tradition she had kept since childhood.

"Chinese dumpling is one of the most important foods because it is shaped like ancient gold ingots and symbolises wealth," Miss Lu said. "During the New Year season, we will be eating as many dumplings as possible because it means we will have good fortune for the whole year."

Zhi Hua Cai, head chef at SkyCity's Jade Dragon restaurant, said it was a common Chinese belief that "luck is in the food".

In New Year dishes, ingredients with names that sound similar to the words for luck, prosperity or money take precedence.

Among the popular dishes at the New Year dinner table were "yu sheng" or raw fish salad and "nian gao", also known as Chinese New Year pudding, Mr Cai said.

"Eating yu sheng is said to bring good luck. The pronunciation of fish in Chinese sounds like abundance, and eating fish means you will have a year of surpluses and abundance," he said.

"Nian gao also means that you will continue to rise and prosper all year long."

Festive dinners will also feature specialty meats, such as waxed-cured duck and Chinese sausage, and "expensive seafood" such as shark fin, lobster and abalone (paua).

Most Chinese restaurants here, including Jade Dragon, offer a special Chinese New Year menu over the 15-day festive period.

Some restaurants, such as Grand Harbour at the Viaduct, are advising customers against ordering shark fin dishes, despite having them on the menu.

- NZ Herald

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