January 26th marked the beginning of the Chinese New Year. 2009 is the year 4706 in the Chinese calendar, which amazes me to think a civilization has been alive and thriving for so long! This year marks the year of the Ox, known in the Chinese language as Ji Chou. Each person born in any given year is said to have the traits represented by the animal for that year. The Ox represents someone who is calm, dependable, patient, hardworking, ambitious, conventional, modest, logical, and tenacious. Some negative traits said to be possessed by those born in the next year are tendencies to be stubborn, narrow-minded, materialistic, rigid and demanding. Those are a lot of things for the ancient Chinese ancestors to predict about a person, but I've got to say that I have found my traits to be pretty consistent. I was born in the year of the snake (for some reason all of my animal representations are poisonous...I'm a scorpio) and some of those traits include being ambitious, strong, purposeful, creative, wise, graceful and a deep thinker. I'd say, if you know me, most of those are pretty accurate.
The Chinese New Year is the most elaborately celebrated holiday in the Chinese culture. As for most cultures, it represents finishing up with the old and making way for a fresh start in the upcoming year. Many traditions take place annually including the sweeping of the grounds, Lai-See, "Everybody's Birthday", the lantern festival, and an extravagant parade. The sweeping of the grounds happens before the actual new year, in preparation for the celebrations to come. Every corner of the house is cleaned and flowers are placed around the house to symbolize a fresh start for the upcoming year. On the first day of the new year, children are given red "Lai-See" envelopes with good luck money inside. This is the day to put on your best clothes and your best behavior, and to make sure you do not break anything. They really want to start off the year right! The seventh day is a day to celebrate being a year older. It is called "Everybody's Birthday", and everyone is considered one year older as of that day. Imagine if it was like that in the U.S. -- people would never forget a birthday again!! The final day of Chinese New Year celebration is celebrated with a lantern festival. Everyone comes out into the streets with an elaborately decorated lantern, and watches a parade highlighting the sacred dragon dance. The young men of the town decorate a dragon made of bamboo, silk, and paper, and travel down the streets making the dragon move and dance in celebration.
I think the Chinese New Year is an incredibly rich tradition that outdoes any celebration we have here in the United States. Their culture is so meaningful, and their traditions reach back thousands of years. Not one symbol goes without a story behind it, or a tradition that goes along with it. So as all of you observe this holiday in your own way, take time to think about what your life means to you and what symbols mean the most to you in your life.