The dragon is an important part of the new year celebrations and is paraded through the streets. It represents wisdom, strength, benevolence, and good fortune.
The Chinese use the Lunar calendar for their festivals. The Lunar calendar is based on the time the moon takes to go around the Earth. (The Western calendar is based on the time it takes for the Earth to go around the Sun.)
The lunar cycle is about 29.5 days. In order to "catch up" with the solar calendar the Chinese insert an extra month once every few years.
The first day of each Chinese year will always fall sometime between January 21 and February 21, inclusive, and takes place at sunset on the day of the second (sometimes rarely on the third) New Moon following the winter solstice (21 or 22 December).
Chinese New Year celebrations last for two weeks and end with Teng Chieh, the lantern festival, on the full moon about 15 days later.
Each year in the Chinese calendar is represented by one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, the Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Some people believe that people born in a particular year such as the year of the Rat will have some of the characteristics of that animal. It is said that "The animal hides in your heart."
According to Chinese legend, the twelve animals quarreled one day as to who was to head the cycle of years. The gods were asked to decide and they held a contest: whoever was to reach the opposite bank of the river would be first, and the rest of the animals would receive their years according to their finish.
All the twelve animals gathered at the river bank and jumped in. Unknown to the ox, the rat had jumped upon his back. As the ox was about to jump ashore, the rat jumped off the ox's back, and won the race. The pig, who was very lazy, ended up last. That is why the rat is the first year of the animal cycle, the ox second, and the pig last.
Also on this day ......
On 23 January 1957, machines at the Wham-O toy company roll out the first batch of their aerodynamic plastic discs - now known to millions of fans all over the world as Frisbees.