The Chinese lunar year of the rat begins Saturday. If you take the Asian tradition seriously, then you will likely have completed the required cleaning by now. As customary, households clear out all dirt, damaged goods and freshen up surfaces so they shine. Dirt is cleared away to make room for whatever the new year brings. Food is prepared ahead, clothing is cleaned and set out to wear and red envelopes with money are readied to give to children. It is almost like Western Christmas and New Year combined.

In cities with a large Asian population, there are parades and outdoor celebrations where everyone can join in the noisy fun and see the beautiful animals dance through the streets. Los Angeles and New York have grand celebrations. Each has a China town and other sections where foods and goods are sold that give residents a taste of the old country right here in America.

Dragons usually lead parades regardless of which animal happens to be that year’s creature. They are manned by at least two and depending on its length, frequently three or more men. They move from side-to-side and the benevolent head rises up as it is accompanied by Chinese music, banging of metal symbols and firecrackers. If children are greeted by it or that year’s animal, that’s considered good luck.

Superstition follows all Chinese New Year traditions, from the colors worn to the food eaten. It is celebrated for 15 days, from Jan. 25 to Feb. 8 for 2020. Times are allocated for visits, remembering employees, family and friends, for forgiving debts, for visiting gravesites and temples, and for doing all the “right” traditions in order to make the new year prosperous, healthy, happy and respectable.

For us here in Jamestown, we get to enjoy Asian meals. This is time for long noodles (for long life), dumplings and green foods for wealth, and all things red for happiness.

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Several online sites give rat birth years as: 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008 or 2020. If you were born before Jan. 25, 2020, you are still a pig. The animal changes on the 25th. It will change in 2021 on Feb. 12, when the 2021 animal will be an ox. People with a January or February birthday have to check when the new year begins, because their animal may be connected to the previous year if their birthday falls before the lunar year begins.

According to Chinese tradition, the Jade Emperor called the animals to a party and said the first to enter would be given special treatment. The rat rode in on the back of the ox, jumped off at the door and ran in first. So the rat leads the years, followed by the ox. In between them and the pig, there are other animals. Each is supposed to have a different fortune during any year. It’s fun to get your fortune, but taking it seriously might bring bad luck. It’s time to enjoy the food, wear lots of red, be kind and generous, and by doing that you will make your own good fortune.

If anyone has an item for this column, please contact Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.