Today starts 15-day celebration of Chinese New YearToday marks the start of the Chinese year 4705. It is the official starting date for both the 12-year cycle of the animals used in Chinese astrology and it is the first animal of that group.
By: Sharon Cox, The Jamestown Sun
Today marks the start of the Chinese year 4705. It is the official starting date for both the 12-year cycle of the animals used in Chinese astrology and it is the first animal of that group.
The years go through these animals: rat, ox, tiger, cat (or hare), dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Each year has its own starting date based on the lunar cycle.
Within each 12 year cycle there are additional elements: metal, earth, water, wood and fire. For anyone to repeat his personal year and element, takes 60 years. In addition, there are yin and yang characteristics applied to each sign. The Chinese go to the equivalent of an astrologer to decide if a couple should marry, when to conceive a baby and so on. In today’s world they may also couple their historic astrological signs with western.
The 15-day celebration includes many rituals and traditions and ends with the lantern festival which this year will be February 21.
Just as westerners do, they eat specific foods for good luck, good health, prosperity and so forth. In addition, there is a ritual cleaning of the home and work place, forgiveness for certain personal debts and some religious activities that accompany the 15 days.
It is not uncommon for people to be let off from work for some of the time if not all, and gifts are exchanged among coworkers and family members.
In Japan, before the new year is celebrated (using both the Georgian and lunar calendars) some unusual traditions occur as well. Fresh bamboo is cut to replace worn out or faded bamboo fencing, mochi and sake are taken to the temple for sacrifice (along with rice and small oranges akin to tangerines). At the temple a footed tray is placed at the altar, and topped with one, two or three discs of pounded sweet rice called mochi. On top is placed the orange and a cask of sake is set near by and a prayer offered.
Decorations for the onset of the 15 days are simple to elaborate. The simplest design is freshly cut joint of timber bamboo, about four to five inches in diameter, and about a meter high. The top is sliced diagonally so as to expose the soft ivory colored interior paper, and then two more smaller sections are cut the same way and gradually shorter. These are tied with black cord and a section of pine and perhaps a branch from a plum tree is thrust into the arrangement.
All this stands by a front gate or home door to greet visitors. In large hotels and restaurants the arrangement includes more elaborate groupings of fresh flowers and plant material but might also have everything from tiny geisha dolls to origami cranes incorporated into the design.
In each country the food becomes a feast for the eyes and palate.
In China, the dumpling is primarily the required food, along with noodle, fish or seafood and something red.
In Japan, the dumpling is also an important element, but all types of sea foods and sea weeds, tofu products and fresh vegetables make the meal outstanding. It is not uncommon to celebrate the New Year at a restaurant where it might cost $200 or more per person or, in the more traditional fashion, at home.
Regardless, they too attribute meaning to the foods and whether or not it will be an auspicious year. As I mentioned in an earlier column, visits to ancestor burial sites are very important at the first of the year and every Japanese family adhering to Shinto beliefs will have a shrine in its home for the remembrance of ancestors.
It’s uncommon to display personal items in the home, such as photos on walls and that sort of thing. Their rooms are simple, basic and elegant, while at the same time lived in.
In China, based on what I was told by former students from there, the home is Spartan; small, few rooms and not always including running water or if in cities, no hot water. There’s no need for stoves since steam baskets fitted over boiling liquid cook breads and doughs.
Some of their traditions are wonderful, especially those surrounding foods, parades and public festivals. In urban settings where there are large settlements of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and Indonesians, one would be able to attend those activities.
There is a limited number of Asians living here, unfortunately, and we cannot be privy to that side of their traditions. But we can enjoy the fun side of every new year and learn a little about the meaning of that year’s animal.
If you were born in these years (check a book if your birthday falls in January or February, because it’s different for each year) you are likely a rat: 1900, 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008. According to Suzanne White’s New Astrology Book, rat people are social, charismatic, intellectual, thrifty and influential. And we can all enjoy a meal at one of our local Chinese restaurants or buy ingredients at the grocery and make our own.
If anyone has art-related activities to include in this column, write: “Art Voices,” c/o Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.