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Seeing The World In Colour

24th January 2020

Tonight's Chinese New Year offers a welcome reminder that the colours of the rainbow often mean very different things to different people.


The fact that our Chinese friends are marking the New Year 24 days after the rest if us is sufficient reminder that people of different cultures often see the world in different ways. The Chinese zodiac is divided into twelve houses, not so differently from the Western zodiac, but each house has a duration of a year, not a month. January 25th 2020 signals the beginning of the Year of the Rat, and tonight’s celebrations will be both colourful and traditional.


If you’re sharing in the festivities, don’t be surprised to see the colour red at every turn. Legend has it that in ancient times, a sea monster named Nian would take to the land for one night each year, searching for humans and animals to eat in a coastal village. People would make their escape to the safety of nearby mountains, but one year a beggar took shelter in the village. The beggar was dressed in red, and decorated the house he was staying in with red paper. When Nian approached the house the beggar set off firecrackers, and the combination of the loud noise and the colour red was enough to make the monster run away. This is why Chinese families wear red clothes and decorate their homes in red on New Year’s Eve, and release firecrackers at midnight.


China isn’t the only country with colour preferences, of course. Japanese people believe blue symbolizes coolness and loyalty. It’s commonplace for job applicants to wear blue for interviews. Purple represents royalty in Japanese culture, and purple flowers are very popular. Orange signals love, happiness, civilization and knowledge. In India, yellow is the colour of learning and saffron yellow is sacred. While Chinese people see red as a celebratory colour, South Africans have adopted it as a colour of mourning, and in Brazil the colour purple evokes spirituality in a way that makes it a suitable colour to wear at funerals.

The world outside our window and beyond our shores is a place of diversity and wonder. We wish our Chinese friends every happiness for their celebrations tonight, and our New Year’s resolution is to keep respecting and valuing the language and culture of every nation. We enjoy seeing the world in colour.


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