WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The Chinese New Year celebrates the year 4713: The Year of the fuzzy horned or hoofed animal that bleats and eats grass.
Formally known as the Lunar New Year but also known as the Spring Festival, it is considered one of the most important holidays of the year in China and in ethnic Chinese communities abroad.
Two years ago it was the Year of the Snake, last year was the Year of the Horse and this year the festival welcomes the Year of the Sheep, Goat or Ram.
The Chinese alphabet uses the same character -- "yang" in Mandarin -- for horned animals like sheep, goats or rams. Goats are considered strong but with a "quiet spirit" while sheep are considered softer animals.
Most people in mainland China call it the Year of the Goat due to the country's culinary traditions.
Chinese and linguistics professor Wei Hong told NBC News she thinks people shouldn't need to be confused about semantics and suggested they perhaps use the authentic name: Year of the Yang.
Historically in China's agrarian culture, the festival is the one period of time when farmers would rest to enjoy family and bid farewell to the old year and begin anew.
The Lunar New Year is more than just one day. Chinese months emulate the lunar calendar with each month beginning on the new moon. The first day of the festival begins on the first day of the month -- this year it's Feb. 19 -- and usually continues until the full moon fifteen days later.
Ancient customs and traditions have varied over the thousands of years since the calendar's creation. Customs can vary between regions, villages and even families according to social hierarchy.
The color red is central to the festivities. It symbolizes fire, which can drive away bad luck.
Firecrackers are used in the hope of scaring away the monster "Nian," a half-dragon, half-lion beast said to come out of hiding and attack people, especially children, during the festival.
A long time ago, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on the Lunar New Year. According to the legend, he designated a year to each of the 12 that arrived and said that people born on those years would share some of that animal's personalty.
Traditional holiday sweets are important for the festival. Desserts include nian gao (rice pudding), babaofan (eight treasure rice), jau goks (crispy dumplings), fruits and candied seeds.
The Lunar New Year also has its own film genre called "hesuipian," which are generally uplifting comedies focused on families with happy endings -- similar to Christmas movies.
Other customs include the avoidance of using the number "four" because it sounds like the word for "death" and avoiding any words that sound close to the words for illness or bankruptcy.
People should also avoid using a broom on New Year's Day as to avoid accidentally sweeping good luck out of the door, according to legend.