Dazzle your friends and family with your knowledge of the Chinese New Year, courtesy of Patty Peck Honda.

Q: When is the Chinese New Year and why does it change?

A: The Chinese New Year is based on when the first new moon of the new year occurs—late January or early February. Although the Chinese have adopted the Western solar calendar, the lunar calendar is still used for holidays and festivals.

Q: What are traditional New Year’s Eve activities for the Chinese New Year?

A: On New Year’s Eve, the Chinese give their homes a thorough cleaning. At midnight, they open the doors and windows to let the stresses of the previous year exit.

Q: What animals are involved in Chinese New Year celebrations?

A: The monkey, rooster, rat, dragon, dog, ox, ram, rabbit, snake, horse, tiger, and pig are the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. The animals rotate and are celebrated every twelve years.

Q: What is the traditional Chinese New Year color?

A: Wear red. It symbolizes fire, which wards off evil spirits. People give "lucky money" in red envelopes, wear red clothes, and write poems on red paper. (And remember not to wear black. It’s considered unlucky.)

Q: How long does the celebration last?

A: The Chinese New Year lasts 15 days. The celebration culminates on the final day with the lantern festival. Participants carry lanterns under a full moon. This final day of celebration is well known to outsiders on account of the iconic dragon dance.

Q: What are traditional meat dishes served on Chinese New Year?

A: You can’t go wrong with chicken or fish. They symbolize happiness and prosperity when served whole. Duck symbolizes fidelity.

Q: What are other foods are traditionally served for Chinese New Year?

A: Serve dishes with oranges. They symbolize wealth. Egg rolls also symbolize wealth. Rice cakes bring a rich and prosperous life. In short, if you eat oranges for breakfast, egg rolls for lunch, and rice cakes for a snack, you have a really good chance at becoming wealthy (according to folklore, that is).

Q: What are some foods to avoid on the Chinese New Year?

A: Because white is the color of death and misfortune, avoid serving raw tofu or bean curd, their health benefits notwithstanding.

Q: What is the most important aspect of the Chinese New Year?

A: The Chinese New Year's importance is underscored by the number of families and friends that gather for the holiday.

Q: Why are fireworks part of New Year celebrations?

A: The practice of setting off fireworks for the Chinese New Year began in ancient China. Gunpowder-filled bamboo stems were set on fire. Their explosion was believed to scare away evil spirits.

Q: Are there any other legends regarding the use of fireworks?

A: According to one legend, a beast known as the Lian came down every winter to feast on humans. The use of loud noises and bright colors apparently scared the beast away.

Q: Are there any plants or flowers associated with the holiday?

A: For prosperity, bring kumquat trees, narcissus, and peonies. For romance, bring home peach blossoms. For long-lasting relationships, try tangerine plants with the leaves still on.