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Year of the Sheep...

Whether you're calling it the Year of the Sheep or the Year of the Ram or the Year of the Goat (the Chinese word "yang" can be any of these), on 19 January, Chinese communities all over the world will be welcoming the New Year.

We are leaving the lucky Year of the Horse and entering a less auspicious one. Although gentle and nurturing, sheep are also seen as undynamic: followers rather than leaders, so apparently some people will put off new ventures until the Year of the Monkey in 2016. But, for now, 2015 may usher in a more honest and stable atmosphere for world affairs.

Those born in sheep years (1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, and this year) are said to be generous, creative, romantic, and sensitive. They can also be lazy, self-pitying, irresponsible, and given to support for eccentric theories! Their lucky colour is yellow and their lucky numbers include 3,4,5, 12, 34, 45, and 54, if you're purchasing lottery tickets.

Whether they are celebrating their zodiac animal or not, billions of Chinese citizens will travel to visit their relatives in what the Chinese media likes to call the largest migration of human beings on the planet. The Muslim hajj and the Hindu Kumbh Mela are possible rivals for this honour, but the New Year or Spring Festival is certainly up there, and has been for about 4,000 years.

Many of the new year traditions will be familiar to non-Chinese people: houses are cleaned and huge family meals are enjoyed. People are superstitious and careful about what they do on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day because events are seen as indicators for the coming year. Children are not disciplined because tears on New Year's Day promise tears in the future. Nothing is swept out of the house (dirt is collected and carried out), because of the chance of sweeping good fortune out with the dust. People like to wear new clothes, preferably in red, and children collect red envelopes of money, sometimes in exchange for leaves of lettuce "fed" to a dragon dancing through the streets.

The new year will be ushered in on 18 February by a new moon, called a "black supermoon" because although it's at its perigee, or closest to Earth, we can't see it. There will be six "supermoons" during 2015, and the ones in August, September, and October will occur during full moons, so they will be spectacular.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

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