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Chinese New Year celebration continues

The last days of the Chinese New Year celebration are coming to an end on Sunday, when in China, the lantern festival caps the 15-day holiday .

The lunar year of the tiger began on Valentine's Day 2010, with each of the 15 days designated for a specific activity. Before the previous year ends, families get together to thoroughly clean the house and make repairs of torn clothes or replace them for the new year.

Debts are forgiven, grudges erased and the optimism of spring heralds bright red, gold, pink and green of emerging life. It is the longest-lasting celebration of the lunar calendar and associated with myths giving it the vitality of the season.

Americans know of fireworks and lion or dragon dances seen on television or in a section of their city known as China-town or some derivative. The culture behind the celebrations is as exciting and symbolic as the street events starting and finishing the 15-day cycle.

We know the symbols, rat, ox, pig, horse, dragon, snake, etc. Those 12 symbols also have attached to them an element of fire, water, earth, metal or wood. Plus it's either yin or yang (feminine or masculine) so there's a 60-year cycle in which no two years will duplicate tendencies until 60 years has passed. Conception, birth, marriage, investments, where to build a house, laying out space use and even which direction one places windows and doors all are controlled in China by geomancy -- the signs in the lunar calendar. Like Disney characters, they tell a story.

Most Americans know their own western "sign," and depending on beliefs, may keep a close check daily on tendencies, or dismiss it as so much rubbish. But still, they are likely to know their own birth sign. Coupling it with the Asian method of geomancy, one gets a clearer idea of prognostications.

In Japan, the father figure of the household dons a scary Setsubun face mask and red clothing and gets chased through the house, while he purifies each door and window opening. This is done as a means of ridding the house of evil and protecting good luck inside. That image shows up in art throughout the year as benevolent father, but not meant to represent a demon.

Both China and Japan observe traditions unique to the individual country regarding foods, customs of the 15-day period and how each symbol is used during the year. Good luck, money, long and healthy lives, familial relationships, deaths and fertility/food all play roles in the annual celebrations. In China, dumplings and very long noodles, special sweets, red- colored foods and mandarin oranges are part of that celebration.

In Japan, at the family gathering for New Year's Day, they eat everything from expensive fish roe, smoked or raw fish, natto, tofu, rice balls, soups, saki and fresh fruit. Honored there at the temple and at the family shrine, are deceased ancestors, young children and older family members.

The symbols are illustrated all year long in Japan, China, Korea and other Asian communities.

If anyone has an item to include in this column, please send to Sharon Cox PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.