Hi everyone! This week is a special time in China as we are preparing to celebrate Chinese New Year. When it comes to this time of the year there are some things worth mentioning as they typically happen only in China:
“The Great Migration”
Imagine what happens when companies, factories, shops, restaurants, and stock markets all close from anywhere two weeks to a month at a time. While that is happening, about 2.98 billion trips are expected to be made all over China to reunite people with family. Even those used to it will agree that the experience can be harrowing.
“The Battle of Beijing”
This is the time when all your neighbors go out and set off fireworks all night, every night…for 15 days. It feels like being in a war-zone. The reason behind this is to drive away a monster called “Nian” so we can all have a happy and prosperous new year. This year Beijing announced that fireworks would be banned (within the 5th ring road) but whether or not they enforce that remains to be seen. We expect that our poor cat will probably be hiding in the washing machine again this year.
Spring Festival in China is kind of like Christmas in the West. This is a time for family reunion, visiting relatives, eating dumplings and other favorite dishes, giving out “hongbaos” to the younger family members, posting spring couplets outside your door, and watching the most famous New Year Show on CCTV, the “New Year Gala” program (“春晚 Chun Wan” ).
See how Mort spent his first Spring Festival in China
“Stock up Your Fridges”
For expats like us who stay in town, this is a time to stock up on a week or two worth of provisions until the store owners return to Beijing.
Chinese Zodiac: Year of the Dog
As you may know, each Chinese (lunar) New Year, is represented by one of the 12 animals from the Chinese Zodiac(生肖shengxiao): Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig. 2018 marks the year of the Dog.
The ordering of the animals is not as arbitrary as it seems. There is a very old folk tale about why the years progress in this order.
There are many variations of this story, but the most popular and widely accepted is the one where Jade Emperor, the ruler of all gods in Chinese mythology, hosts a race in order to determine which 12 animals would be used to mark time. The animals were invited to race to the gates of heaven. The winners, in their respective order, would rule the calendar (zodiac).
As the story goes, the last leg of the journey saw the animals crossing a river. The Ox and Rat got up early knowing that they were slow and would need the extra time. When they came to the river the Rat hitched a ride on the back of the Ox, but ever the opportunist, the rat jumped to shore and took off in a sprint, allowing him to come first place. The Ox persisted onward and came in second. The Rabbit and Tiger had gotten up early, but later still than Ox and Rat. They had hoped to win on account of their speed. When they got to the river, Tiger had an easier time swimming across, while Rabbit was made to hop across using rocks and logs along the river. So it was that Tiger came in third, and Rabbit took fourth place.
Dragon could have easily flown straight up to the heavenly gates but was waylaid when he decided to help a village that was in trouble. By the time he was finished, it was too late for him to win anything but fifth place. Horse had just made it across the river, when he was startled by Snake. Snake slithered on into sixth place and Horse followed gingerly behind to come in seventh. Goat, Monkey, and Rooster cooperated with one another and rafted across the river together. After crossing they agreed on who would cross the finish line first. Per their agreement Goat placed eighth, Monkey placed ninth, and the Rooster came in tenth.
Dog had every opportunity to place higher in the race, but when he came to the river he realized that he had not bathed in quite some time and spent much of the race playing in the water.
So it was that he placed eleventh. Pig got sidetracked eating and trundled along slowly, crossing the finish line at 12th. Cat showed up the next day having been lied to by Rat about which day the race was to happen.
The year of the dog has just begun, and one might expect that it would mark a happy time for those born in any of the dog years, however in Chinese culture the opposite is true. Years that share your birth sign are thought to bring bad luck. Your Zodiac Year won’t be a lucky one for you. Instead it will be filled with obstacles and all sorts of challenges when it comes to love, career, wealth, health, and everything else. There might be some triumphs too, but all the victories will be hard won, or perhaps even Pyrrhic victories. According to superstition, the way to avoid bad luck during your zodiac year is to wear something red all year. Most Chinese can be seen wearing red socks or a belt or bracelet made of red cord to circumvent bad luck during this time. (Red underwear is also highly recommended during your zodiac year) Be warned though, the “red rule” won’t work unless the red object is bought for you by a close family member, LOL!
Spring Festival is the most important holiday in Chinese Culture. For those of you who don’t celebrate it, I hope this has given you a little more insight into the traditions and beliefs surrounding this wonderful time of year.