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Jan. 23: Enter the Dragon

5 things you might not know about Chinese New Year.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Having spent several years exploring many parts of China and Japan, I had the pleasure of experiencing traditional many Asian festivals and holidays up close — and there is none bigger than Chinese New Year.

Whether here in Huntington or in Asia, for those who celebrate the holiday, it's a special day. 

Jan. 23 marks the beginning of the Year of the Dragon and the end to the Year of the Rabbit. Generally, families celebrate the new year for 15 days with the holiday ending with the Lantern Festival. Each year is associated with one of 12 different animals in the Chinese zodiac, the dragon being the only animal in the zodiac which not a real one.

Red envelopes filled with an even-numbered amount cash (a Hong Bao) are a traditional gift of the Chinese, especially on Chinese New Year and at weddings. Odd numbered amounts are given at funerals.

5 things you might not know about Chinese New Year: 

1. Year of the Dragon: Chinese year 4710, the Year of the Dragon, begins Jan. 23, 2012. Unlike Western culture, which uses the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese new year begins on the first day of the lunar calendar. 

2. Wearing Red: 2012 will be an unlucky year for those born in the Year of the Dragon, according to traditional believers of Chinese zodiac. To fight against pending bad luck throughout the year, many Chinse believe it helps to wear red every day. Because wearing a red outfit each day is difficult for a number of reasons, many Chinese wear red undergarments each day of the year. (Born in the Year of the Dragon, this reporter recently received 12 pairs of shiny new red boxers as a gift from caring friends in China.) 

3. Out With The Old: For good luck throughout the year, many Chinese put on a complete set of new clothes on New Year's Day, change out old household items for new ones, fix broken items and thouroughly clean the household. I talked with a friend of mine in Shanghai Sunday as he was throwing out some old appliances and breaking out the new ones for good fortune. 

4. Reunion Dinner: Good luck trying to find a table at most restaurants in China, or here in New York in Flushing and Chinatown for the next few weeks, especially on New Year's Day and eve. I personally have witnessed families making reservatons at top eatery's in China up to one year in advance for the traditional new year's dinner.  

5. Find Your Year: Not sure of your Chinese zodiac sign? Click here to find out if you might need to put on some red today.

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