A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to find myself in Hong Kong a week before the Chinese (or Lunar) New Year festivities were in full swing. Storefronts were decked in gold and red to ring in the then-Year of the Rabbit, every shop was on sale in the name of cleaning out the old in the face of the new, and potted plants featuring miniature Mandarin orange trees (a symbol of prosperity) were installed in front of hotel and office entrances all over town. The energy in the air was contagious, and I left the city with a new obsession with the season and the desire to learn all I could about how to celebrate it on my own.
These days, when February rolls around, I’m ready with a “Gong Hey Fat Choy!” on my lips when I visit my favorite dim sum shops on Clement Street. While many families engage in elaborate ways of celebrating each of the 15 days of the new year, I practice what you might call Chinese New Year Lite (wherein I cherry-pick what sounds like fun, and don’t take anything too seriously).
And like any good dog mother, I make sure Mr. Moxie gets a slice of the festivities with me. Here are a few things you can do if you feel like celebrating, too:
1. Give your home — especially the most dogified areas — a thorough cleaning before the new year.
In the weeks leading up to the Lunar New Year, it is recommended that you literally sweep away the bad luck that’s been accumulating inside your home over the course of the year. Cleaning the bad energies out is also believed to make room for new, better ones.
While I’m nowhere near superstitious, I love having some extra incentive to clean my apartment, including Moxie’s bedding and litter box (long story, but yes, my dog uses a litter box). I like to spend the weekend before Chinese New Year organizing my closets and making huge piles of clothing for Goodwill and setting aside toys Mox no longer plays with to give away.
Pro Tip: If you’re not a big cleaning buff, fret not! Chinese New Year started yesterday (Feb. 10) and while it’s recommended that you clean before new year’s eve, it’s supposedly not good to clean for the next 13-15 days (in this case, through Feb. 25). The Chinese believe that cleaning during the new year will sweep away the good luck you’ve just received. And we can’t have that, now can we?
2. Groom that dog! And yourself, too.
Chinese New Year is a celebration of newness. It’s not unusual for people to get a new haircut or pick up a new outfit for the occasion.
If you’ve been meaning to take your pup to the groomer’s for a haircut of her own or trim your pet’s nails at home, now’s not a bad time to do it. Mr. Moxie will be getting his nails done this afternoon, and don’t tell him this, but it’s probably time for a bath, too.
3. Dress to impress — and favor reds.
This is the time of year to dig your sharpest outfits out of your closet. Red is also the color of the season, since the Chinese associate it with happiness and good fortune. (It’s also supposed to scare evil spirits and bad luck away.) Gold is another favorite. But whatever you do, steer clear of black, which is said to symbolize bad luck and death.
Moxie likes to think he’s lucky all year long since his fur is a deep russet. This week, I’ll likely dress him in a red hoodie when we go for walks. Decorating your home or workspace with red is also encouraged.
4. Skip the fireworks.
Fireworks are a huge part of Chinese New Year, since the loud noises are thought to scare away bad luck. But your dog won’t appreciate them, so I’m all for skipping this festivity altogether. Instead, when Moxie barks at the delivery guy through my front door, I pretend he’s scaring the evils of 2013 away (and hopefully not the delivery guy).
5. Celebrate with “lucky” foods.
There’s a wide variety of foods traditionally eaten for Chinese New Year – oranges for prosperity, long noodles for long life, dumplings for good fortune, sweets to have a sweet year. (CHOW has a great list with the cultural significance of each.)
My favorite food-centric tradition is coming up with a “tray of togetherness” to share with relatives or friends. Symbolic foods are usually laid out, but I like the idea of a tray with treats for both pups and people.
6. Spread goodwill.
Many Chinese New Year festivities center on reconnecting with family and friends, avoiding conflict (which, naturally, breeds bad luck) and giving small gifts to the people in your life.
One tradition I think is very cute is angpau, where small amounts of money (usually even sums) are put into red envelopes and given out (usually to children by married couples).
For the pet-centric home, it might be nice to give angpau to your trainer, groomer, vet tech, or anyone you’d like to wish a prosperous new year. If you don’t like the idea of money in envelopes, you can always stuff them with treats.
Dogster readers: Do your families celebrate Chinese New Year? Do you celebrate other cultures’ holidays just for fun? (We do it all the time here at Dogster HQ.)