Jan. 1 is not the only day people will be ringing in the new year. On Thursday, China and other countries with large Chinese populations will celebrate Chinese New Year. The holiday, also known as the Spring Festival, is considered the most important social and economic festival of the year in China.
The festival, which follows a lunisolar calendar, is celebrated on the first day of the first month in the Chinese calendar – the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice. It ends on 15th day of the first month, known as Lantern Festival. This year, Chinese New Year begins on Feb. 18 and ends on March 5.
Each year corresponds to one of 12 different zodiac signs and animals. This year confusion has set in over whether 2015 is the year of the goat or sheep. Both animals share the same Chinese character, the “yang,” which refers to any member of the caprinae subfamily -- goat or sheep. Researchers say the actual animal is beside the point, what remains important is the Chinese character and its meaning.
“Yang is a symbol of... blessing and fortune and represents good things," Yin Hubin, an ethnology researcher with the China Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank, told Agence France-Presse. "It is connected to the original implication of the Chinese character as an ideogram and reflects the world view of the Chinese people in primitive times."
For those unfamiliar with Chinese New Year, below are three answers to common questions surrounding the popular festival.
1. Who Observes Chinese New Year?
As its name implies, Chinese New Year originated in China. The earliest known record of the holiday dates back to as early as the 14th century B.C. on oracle bones engraved with astronomical records.
At the time, the ancient Chinese calendar was static. It changed whenever a new emperor came to power and varied according to region. Today, the festival dates change according to the lunisolar Chinese calendar.
Countries with large Chinese populations including Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius and the Philippines -- also, Chinatowns in major cities worldwide celebrate Chinese New Year. San Francisco, which has a population that is nearly 20 percent Chinese, claims to have the largest Chinese New Year parade outside of Asia. This year organizers expect 1 million onlookers to attend.
2. How Is Chinese New Year Celebrated?
Chinese New Year traditionally has been linked to honoring household gods, heavenly gods and ancestors. Ritual sacrifices in the form of food and paper icons were offered to gods and ancestors. Messages promoting luck and good fortune were tacked up to doorposts, and firecrackers were set off to ward off evil spirits.
Today, festivities begin on New Year’s Eve (according to the Chinese calendar) when families clean their homes. When the holiday begins, however, dust and brooms are hidden so that “good luck cannot be swept away.” Fireworks, firecrackers, lanterns and red-paper cutouts are used as decorations during this time. Gifts are exchanged as well. Children typically receive red envelopes with money inside.
Families travel from near and far to celebrate the festival together. Food plays a central role. Sweet sticky rice cakes, known as Nian gao, savory dumplings and fish are popular dishes served over the holiday. Each is believed to bring good luck in the coming year.
3. What Predictions Are Held For The Year Of The Goat (Or Sheep)?
The year of the goat or sheep is one of the least preferred of the 12 zodiac signs. While fortune tellers predict relatively stable health throughout the year, love, wealth and career take major dips.
"It seems that in the year of the goat, China's economy [will] still have some growth, but maybe slow down compared to last year -- not so strong," Joseph Wong, a feng shui master and destiny consultant in Hong Kong, told CNNMoney, adding that he predicts the property market will fluctuate during the latter part of the year as well.
The year of the goat also holds bleak predictions for love and relationships. Feng shui master Chen Shuaifu told NBC News predicts that it will be hard to find new relationships and an unlucky year to have babies. This is one of the main reasons expectant mothers in China have been rushing to get C-sections ahead of the new year. Besides being stuck in the hospital during the holiday, mothers are worried that babies born in the year of the horse will have better luck than those born during the year of the goat. Still, those born in the new year -- including Prince William and Duchess Kate’s baby expected in April -- are believed to be gentle, mild-mannered and generous. Those born during the year of the goat are also believed to have fewer health problems than those born under different zodiac signs.