As you wind down from a busy holiday season, my Chinese brethren and I are just starting to gear up to celebrate the Year of the Horse. Bright red and gold lanterns are dangling from every perch available. Little orange trees decorated with red envelops are replacing the bling-ed out Christmas trees around town and I have to say, something about the scent of citrus and bright colors definitely adds a promise of spring to the air.
Unfortunately for a foreigner, the fifteen day celebration of Chinese New Year can be a bit boring. One of my American friends likened it to Thanksgiving – a big holiday, lots of traditional food and family, but not much to see or “do”. In the south, they hold dragon parades – loud, obnoxious affairs to scare away the evil spirits. On the fifteenth day, there is the lantern festival where paper lanterns are hung and lit to welcome and guide the new, good spirits into your life.
And then, of course, there are the fireworks.
The fireworks are also to scare off evil and supposedly, the loudest and longest “displays” are saved for the first and fifteenth days. Having lived through only one Chinese New Year in Shanghai, I can assure you of two things. 1. There isn’t so much in the way of organized, regulated, firework shows. It’s more like any hooligan with a few RMB in his pocket can have at it whenever and wherever he may feel some evil creeper. 2. Thanks to said hooligans, no evil spirits will be anywhere near this continent (perhaps even on God’s green earth) and I, and my family, will be safe from any harm a mischievous goblin could possibly think to inflict on us. Either that or we will be too deaf and blind from 15 days of non-stop firecracking that we will hardly notice those pesky bad guys lurking around.
Each of the 15 days has a different traditional food you are supposed to eat and many of the days have different meaning attached to them. For example, married daughters traditionally visit their birth families on day 2, prayers are offered on the 9th day, and on the 7th day, everyone grows older. (I’m not exactly sure how that works but it’s known as “Renri” (human day) and is the day humans were created.) As with any centuries old culture, the traditions are vast and varying and it is in times like these, that I wish I could be invited to a “traditional” celebration. But alas, I will be in my fancy modern Pudong apartment cursing the incessant popping and cracking while eating mediocre pizza.
But since I’ve mentioned I’d like to adapt some Chinese superstitions into my life, here’s a couple that I think I could manage.
– Cleaning the house before the new year. Literally clearing out the old and making way for the new. (And then promptly putting the dust pan away so as not to brush out the new, good, spirits. Imagine? The horror!)
– Getting a hair cut before new year’s. (This has more to do with the fact that “hair” (fa) kind of sounds like “prosperity” (fanrong) than the idea of cutting off the old and making room for the new. I mean listen: Fa…Fanrong. It’s like exactly…almost…kind of the same.)
– Purchasing new clothes and shoes symbolic of a new start.
– And in lieu of hanging lanterns, I’ll light some candles for the good guys. It’s basically the same, right? Oh, who knows, maybe I’ll even find a lantern or two to hang. I’m really assimilating!
So, get ready for the year of the horse. Or, more specifically the Green Wooden Horse. Unlike the 2013 snake, when predictions were a bit dismal, the horse in all its majestic glory promises optimism, energy, and beauty. The dragon and horse are auspicious symbols. They are symbols of leadership, high-rank, and outstanding and noble individuals. So generally, 2014 will be good. And like a swift, galloping, horse, things will happen fast in 2014. But more specifically, it depends on what animal you are (which depends on your birth year). I’m a rabbit. My year will be filled with romance, no major health issues and I’ll be presented with great job opportunities. Also, it may be worthwhile for me to invest in land.
If you’re interested in learning more about what you can expect this year, here is one of many websites to get you started.
Zhōngguó xīnnián kuàilè!
(Like, really assimilating.)