Written by Esther Sanz. Translated from Spanish by Melissa Lyras.
Today a new year begins in China and many other East Asian countries, starting the 4,716th year of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar, a celebration that becomes more and more international each year - already, it’s not only celebrated in the expansive Asian country but also in the major capitals and large cities across the western world. The Year of the Dog starts on the the 16th of February, and represent the Chinese horoscope year of those born in 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 and 2006. The Chinese horoscope is different to the zodiac signs in that it is governed by the lunar cycle and lasts for almost a full year.
And so, yesterday marked the closing of the Year of the Fire Rooster and today begins the Year of the Earth Dog. Also in Chinese culture, dogs are considered gentle and happy and synonymous with fidelity and protection. However, some Chinese astrologers predict that this year the dog will take action and will be vigilant against those who have gone against the rules. There are 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, meaning that every 12 years the sign is repeated. Next year will be the Year of the Pig, then the Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Goat, the Monkey, the Rooster and then, in 2030, it will again be the Year of the Dog. Which Chinese zodiac sign are you? Mine is the pig. Find yours here. I think the most difficult to be in Spain is the Rat, for all the negative connotations associated with the animal and the coolest must be the Dragon for its mythical powers.
Just as with the Western notions of a new year, the Chinese one is deeply steeped in traditions and the idea of unity. You’d have a meal with your family and exchange gifts filled with symbolism amongst you. It's traditional to hand a red envelope containing money as a gift to your family and friends. Modern technology has stepped in here and people exchange their "red envelopes" digitally now, too, through WeChat, which is China's answer to WhatsApp. The app literally sends an envelope which transfers money to your bank account! Like in many European cultures, you recognise the bad things that happened to you in the past year and look forward to the good that are to come.
Each year, more people celebrate this unique and symbolic event of the Lunar New Year. Party-lovers and fans of the exotic can join the festivities along with the close to 200,000 Chinese nationals that live in Spain. My friend Celia, who has friends from all over the world, never missed the chance to celebrate a national or international bash, and of course her agenda is already full for this weekend to mark the occasion with her Chinese friends. Her are her recommendations for where to begin this weekend in Madrid:
Eating & Drinking
Any celebration is a good excuse for a gastronomic feast. Lovers of Asian cuisine can join the celebrations for the Lunar New Year and devour some of the most typical and best-loved dishes. Here are some of our favourites amongst the most traditional restaurants in Madrid where you can celebrate in style:
Igo Pasta Ramen
You’ll find this one in the Usera neighbourhood, in Calle Dolores Barranco 88. An authentic Chinese option.
The Hero Hot-Pot
This is a more traditional restaurant, located in Calle Álamo, 7, between Plaza de España and Noviciado.
El Buda Feliz
This was the first Chinese restaurant to open in Spain in 1974. Recently redecorated, it’s an excellent example of the perfect fusion of tradition and the avant garde. This restaurant is located in Calle Tudescos 5, between Santo Domingo and Callao.
If you’re after more options, check out the official list China Taste with more restaurants that will be offering special set menus in honour of Chinese New Year.
Ceremony of the Floating Lanterns
We have an idyllic image in our minds. This Saturday, 17th February at 6:30pm you can make a wish for the Year of the Dog while lighting your lantern at the ceremony. The sunset hour will also be illuminated by the musical group called “You and I”.
New Year’s Parade
This Sunday from 11am until 1pm, the streets of Usera will be the stars of an authentic parade with music and traditional dance giant dragons, typical Chinese dress… an entire spectacular of colour and unique sounds. According to the organisers, more than 500 artists will participate along with the residents from the neighbourhood. The parade will move through the streets of Marcelo Usera, Rafaela Ybarra and continue up to the municipal hall. And of course, because it’s the Year of the Dog, all Madrileños are encouraged to bring their furry friends along with them.
For more info on this exotic fiesta, you can find the full program here.