Samui Wining & Dining
The colourful and dramatic Chinese New Year comes around again – and this time it’s the Year of the Monkey.

The colourful and dramatic Chinese New Year comes around again – and this time it’s the Year of the Monkey.More than 2,000 years ago, The Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on the first day of the New Year. Only 12 of them came. But Buddha was so impressed that he bestowed a special favour upon them, and named a different year after each one. Furthermore, from this point on, any human born in the corresponding years would absorb elements of that animal’s character into their personality. The last Year of the Monkey was in 2004. And this year it’s come around again.


Monkeys are interesting: mercurial, impetuous, lively, alert and curious. They crave enjoyment, activity and stimulation. And the human ones can range from being singers to sensualists to scientists. If you were born in any of these years – 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992 or 2004 – then the monkey is your Chinese astrological sign. Tom Hanks, Buster Keaton, Bette Davis and Will Smith are all monkeys.

The actual date of each Chinese New Year varies. It’s calculated by the Chinese Lunar Calendar, and the first day of the New Year occurs between January 21st and February 20th, according to the phases of the moon. This year it’s going to happen on Monday February 8th.


To most people the Chinese New Year is all about colourful street processions with banners and giant dragons, bright red lanterns and lots of firecrackers. It’s one of the most celebrated sights in the world, and many plan their holiday period precisely so that they can get away somewhere and enjoy it to the full – very much like, for instance, the water festival of Songkran, the Thai New Year. But there’s more to the Chinese New Year than meets the eye. Think about the Western celebration of Christmas. It doesn’t just suddenly happen on December 25th. Before this time there are weeks of preparations.


On Samui, there are Chinese-based communities in a number of places, but none more extensive than in Maenam and Nathon. And you’ll find that the middle road in Nathon, and Maenam’s Soi 4 Walking Street will have been strung across with lanterns and closed to vehicles in advance of the event. You’ll also find celebrations at the imposing Guan Yu Shrine in Hua Thanon. That will be on the 8th of February. But for several weeks prior to this, people have been busy, gift-lists have been drawn up and new clothes and presents bought, along with material for decorations, plus all the traditional festive foodstuffs have been bought and stored in readiness.


This is a time of new beginnings. A time when old rivalries and animosities are forgotten, and thoughts turn towards a new and fresh horizon. And this cleanliness of spirit is personified with a massive house cleaning that often lasts for weeks. Every room is emptied, and every nook and cranny scrubbed clean. Windows are polished until they gleam. Then the doors and window frames are given a fresh coat of paint and decorated with paper cut-outs and scripts with proverbs about happiness, wealth and longevity. All this is to purge the unhappiness or disappointment from the old year and to encourage the spirits of good luck and prosperity for the year to come.


You won’t be aware that this is going on. But there are lots of hints and clues. Ten days before the first day of the New Year, hundreds of red and gold lanterns will appear, strung across streets and between houses, and banners and scripts will start being hung in windows. Hotels and resorts will certainly put a few up, here and there. But you’ll need to head to one of the local centres, as already mentioned, to catch the real show, especially at night.


And this is the point at which the legend of the Nian begins to emerge. This mythical beast would appear without fail on the first day of each New Year. It devoured all in its path; people, cattle, crops. But most of all it loved little children. And so, to protect themselves, people started putting food on their doorsteps in the hope that the monster would be distracted and wander away, satisfied. It seemed to work,Comfortable, stylish, durable and fun clothes at Psylo. except for the fact it still couldn’t resist a toothsome infant. And then came the day on which the Nian turned away from a child dressed in red. Thus, the following year every house was draped with red lanterns and equipped with red fireworks and firecrackers. Although the Nian was never seen again, the tradition survived and continues to this day.


The first official day of the New Year is actually referred to as ‘The Day of The Nian’. And the parade is really all about ridding the world of bad spirits whilst summoning the good ones to take their place. To an earsplitting din of drums, gongs and firecrackers, a long procession of red-clad figures moves from house to house, driving out the last of the bad things, and with the huge bobbing lion (Hong Bao) accepting small red packets of money in exchange for the token nourishment of a handful of green vegetables. And then, officially cleansed and purified, the householders join in and swell the procession. Then, in the evening, out on the streets, long tables are set for a community dinner and party.


Even though the parade is over, during the next few days the ritual continues. Prayers are said and gifts are exchanged with neighbours and the local temple. Finally, 15 days after Nian, on the occasion of the approaching full moon, the official end of the New Year is marked by the gentle ‘Festival of Lanterns’.


At which point we say to you ‘Guo Nian Hao’, and we sincerely hope you enjoy it!


 Rob De Wet.


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