01/29/06 — For Chinese, today begins Year of the Dog

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For Chinese, today begins Year of the Dog

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 29, 2006 2:06 AM

If you sweep your floor today, you could be destined for an unlucky year. And make sure to wear plenty of red.

As people around the world celebrate the Chinese New Year, many superstitions and traditions will guide them through the day.

Even at the home of Shufen Shih and her husband, Phillip Kantzer, of Goldsboro.

Shufen Shih said the first new year's celebration took place long ago, the result of a legend passed down through generations.

"The origin of the whole thing is such a legend," she said. "Some kind of a beast would show up every year and people that's why people light firecrackers and put red paper outside your house. To scare the beast away."

Her husband said this is the first year since their marriage that the couple have stayed in the United States for the holiday.

Usually, he said, they take their daughter to Taiwan to spend time with family.

"She'll sit there and chat with her grandmother and cousins in Chinese," Kantzer said of his daughter, Hania, 2. "It's important that she stays in close contact with her grandparents."

Family is at the heart of the new year's celebration, Shufen said. On New Year's Eve, families gather for a large feast, complete with traditional fish dishes and dumplings. Children try to stay up as late as possible, another superstition.

"The later you stay, the longer your parents will live," she said.

Kantzer added the holiday is comparable to Christmas, but without the presents.

"It's like a combination of Christmas and New Year's," he said. "Families get together and instead of giving presents, they give red envelopes with money. The Chinese kind of get right to the point."

Children get the envelopes from older family members -- but only if they wish for a prosperous year with one word, "gongshi." The word is a way of congratulating your elders for avoiding the beast and surviving the past year.

In the past, the holiday lasted 15 days. Now, children get about a week off of school. They don't get to see their friends until New Year's Day. Married woman don't even get to see their families until then.

"Married daughters don't get to go visit their families until the second day," Shufen said. "It's not like here on Christmas where you decide which parents you see. It's the husband's. It's not until the second day when the daughters come home."