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Chernynkaya On February - 15 - 2010

Long ago, there was a ferocious demon named Nian locked in a remote mountain. Every 12 months, Nian would leave the mountain and eat people until the locals discovered that the demon was afraid of loud noises and red colors. People hung red lanterns and set off fireworks, terrorizing Nian, who would flee back to the mountain. For Chinese people, this day became known as “celebrating the new year” or Guo Nian, meaning “survive the demon Nian.” It is the most important time in the Chinese year.

Chinese months are reckoned by the lunar calendar, with each month beginning on the darkest day. New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest. In China, people may take weeks of holiday from work to prepare for and celebrate the New Year.

2010 is the year of the Tiger. It began on February 14, 2010 and ends on February 2, 2011. The Chinese New Year is the second new moon after the winter solstice. It is based strictly on astronomical observations, and has nothing to do with the Pope, emperors, animals or myths. Due to its scientific and mathematical nature, we can easily and precisely calculate backward or forward for thousands of years.

Legend has it that Buddha  asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal’s year would have some of that animal’s personality. I was born in the year of the Ox, my husband in the year of the Rooster—a very auspicious pairing! Specifically, I am an Earth Ox, while he is a Fire Rooster, so I guess that’s good. Whew. You can find your own Chinese zodiac sign here.

It is thought that people born under this third sign of the Chinese zodiac are physically powerful, gracious, independent and brave, and very bold.  They are friendly and loving but can also selfish and short tempered. Tigers seek attention and power; frequently they are envious in a relation. Tigers live dangerously which often leads to trouble. They are intolerant, take risks and are always searching for excitement. Tigers are also instilled with a good dose of courage.

Year of the Tiger means big changes ahead, but let’s face it—doesn’t every year? The tiger is a sign of bravery. This courageous and fiery fighter is admired by the ancient Chinese as the sign that keeps away the three main tragedies of a household. These are fire, thieves and ghosts. At least we won’t have to worry about those three this year! In Chinese astrology the tiger is one of the most dynamic and powerful signs. Its nature is unpredictable, courageous, and explosive. Therefore, the year of the Tiger is usually associated with big changes and social disorder; 2010 is likely to be a turbulent year—on both a global and a personal level. Just what we need!

The most common way to wish someone a Happy New Year is Gong Xi Fa Cai in Mandarin or Gong Hey Fat Choy in Cantonese.

Gong Xi – are good wishes or congratulations

Fa Cai – to become rich, acquire wealth

So together it means “best and prosperous wishes” for the coming year.

CELEBRATIONS

Each day of the New Year’s celebration requires a different observance. Today, the Second Day, is for married daughters to visit their birth parents. Traditionally, daughters who have been married may not have the opportunity to visit their birth families frequently.

On the second day, the Chinese pray to their ancestors as well as to all the gods. They are extra kind to dogs and feed them well as it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs. (Note to self: Give Zorro an extra good treat today, because he is the best big dog ever!)

At Chinese New Year celebrations people wear red clothes, decorate with poems on red paper, and give children “lucky money” in red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend can drive away bad luck. The fireworks that shower the festivities are rooted in a similar ancient custom. Long ago, people in China lit bamboo stalks, believing that the crackling flames would frighten evil spirits.

In China, the New Year is a time of family reunion. Family members gather at each other’s homes for visits and shared meals, most significantly a feast on New Year’s Eve. In the United States, however, many early Chinese immigrants arrived without their families, and found a sense of community through neighborhood associations instead. Today, many Chinese-American neighborhood associations host banquets and other New Year events.

The lantern festival is held on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Some of the lanterns may be works of art, painted with birds, animals, flowers, zodiac signs, and scenes from legend and history. People hang glowing lanterns in temples, and carry lanterns to an evening parade under the light of the full moon.

In many areas the highlight of the lantern festival is the dragon dance. The dragon—which might stretch a hundred feet long—is typically made of silk, paper, and bamboo. Traditionally the dragon is held aloft by young men who dance as they guide the colorful beast through the streets. In the United States, where the New Year is celebrated with a shortened schedule, the dragon dance always takes place on a weekend. In addition, many Chinese-American communities have added American parade elements such as marching bands and floats.

RED ENVELOPES (lai see)

The ritual of exchanging red envelopes has its roots in traditional Chinese folklore and culture. The color red symbolizes good fortune and power and is used for celebrations to convey blessings and positive energy and to diffuse negative energy. Its rectangular shape resembles that of ancient shields and symbolizes protection. During the Chinese New Year celebration children (and adults too, at least in my household!) are gifted with money in red envelopes. To receive money in a red envelope is considered to be lucky for the person who gives it and for the person who receives it.

FOOD!

The New Year’s Eve dinner is very sumptuous and traditionally includes chicken and fish. The fish is not eaten completely (and the remainder is stored overnight), as the Chinese phrase “may there be surpluses every year.”

Oranges and Tangerines

Etiquette dictates that you must bring a bag of oranges and tangerines and enclose a lai see when visiting family or friends anytime during the two-week long Chinese New Year celebration. Tangerines with leaves intact assure that one’s relationship with the other remains secure. For newlyweds, this represents the branching of the couple into a family with many children. Oranges and tangerines are symbols for abundant happiness.

Candy Tray

The candy tray arranged in either a circle or octagon is called “The Tray of Togetherness” and has a dazzling array of candy to start the New Year sweetly. After taking several pieces of candy from the tray, adults places a red envelope (lai see) on the center compartment of the tray. Each item represents some kind of good fortune. ( I was once in China during the Lunar New Year, in  a “show village.” There was a seemingly ancient old woman there who insisted we visit her house. She was very proud of her TV set and her photo of Michael Jackson on the wall (?!). As honored guests we were served from one of these candy trays, and were obliged to partake. Well, that was almost the end of my trip– never got so sick in my life! Or maybe it was the cha su bao?)

DECORATIONS

Prior to New Year’s Day, Chinese families decorate their living rooms with vases of pretty blossoms, platters of oranges and tangerines and a candy tray with eight varieties of dried sweet fruit. On walls and doors are poetic couplets, happy wishes written on red paper. These messages sound better than the typical fortune cookie messages. For instance, “May you enjoy continuous good health” and “May the Star of Happiness, the Star of Wealth and the Star of Longevity shine on you” are especially positive couplets. Even though I can’t have Christmas decorations, I go all out for these! And the gaudier the better.

Plants and Flowers

Flowers are believed to be symbolic of wealth and high positions in one’s career. Lucky is the home with a plant that blooms on New Year’s Day, for that foretells a year of prosperity. Plum blossoms just starting to bloom are arranged with bamboo and pine sprigs. The plum blossom also signifies reliability and perseverance; the bamboo is known for its compatibility and its flexibility, and the evergreen pine evokes longevity and steadiness. Other highly prized flowers are the pussy willow, azalea, peony and water lily or narcissus.

The Chinese firmly believe that without flowers, there would be no formation of any fruits. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to have flowers and floral decorations. They are the emblems of reawakening of nature, they are also intimately connected with  the wish for happiness during the ensuing year.

DANCES AND PARADES AND NOISE

The Dragon Dances begin on New Year’s Day, and continue throughout the festivities for the next fifteen days. All Chinese New Year parades end with the Dragon Dance. A cloth dragon is held on poles by a team of a dozen or more members who make the dragon “dance” by raising and lowering the poles.


Dragons are an important aspect of the culture and tradition. They were once Imperial symbols in ancient China and have come to signify wealth, wisdom, power and nobility.
The Dragon Dance Parade brings good luck and prosperity for the coming year and is an essential ingredient of any Chinese New Year Celebration.

The Chinese Lion Dance is often mixed up with the Chinese Dragon Dance.

The Dragon Dance is performed by a team of ten or more dancers, whereas the Lion Dance team consists of only two. The Lion Dancers perform to the sound of drums for the first three to five days of the New Year. They dance in front of stores and businesses to scare off the evil spirits and to bring good luck to everyone.

Firecrackers are an important part of the Chinese New Year celebrations. They are lit in front of houses and stores, so that the evil spirits are scared away from the loud noises.
At parades, lion dances and dragon dances, firecrackers are lit up so they drive away the wicked beings and the “bad luck”. Another legend is that the firecrackers will awake the dragon that will bring the spring rain for an auspicious beginning of the growing season. Whatever the origins, Firecrackers provide the happy ending to the parades and dances and are a must for the joyous atmosphere of the celebrations, but to be honest, this is my least favorite tradition–ouch!

Number One Double Happiness Lucky Prosperity to all PlanetPOV !

Categories: News & Politics

Written by Chernynkaya

I am an artist and have lived in Los Angeles all of my life, except for a brief hippie period when I lived in SF. I am currently (semi-unwillingly) retired, but have had several careers.

22 Responses so far.

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  1. Blues Tiger says:

    2010 Year Of The Tiger!!! Grrrrrrrrrrr Grrrrrrrrrrrr

    Heh Heh Heh…

  2. BigDogMom says:

    Cher and all here, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

    As a follower of Feng Shui, this will be a decent year for myself, my Zodiac Animal is a Dog, (alas BigDogMom), the Tiger is one of my companion animals.

    But, unfortunately this is not going to be an easy year for my husband, who is a Monkey, according to the Feng Shui almanac. His main compass position is the North West according to the Bagua, this is not good, because the #5 killing star is now in the North West position this year. And doubly not good for the hubbsters, is the door that we use to enter the house is positioned in the North West also…normally very good all other years for him, but not this one.

    Now I know some will say that I am foolish for believing in all this mumbo jumbo. I just happen to take a course on Feng Shui garden design, just for something to do in the winter, and was delighted to discover that I had been using the principles Feng Shui all along, so I continued studying it for my personal life and home.

    I’m not a real die hard like some, no red couch or drapes for me in my living room! But after what happened yesterday with my husband I may consider changing my color scheme!

    Last night my husband came home early, he was very upset, he had had a panic attack at work, the first time he has ever had one! He said it felt like the walls of his shop was closing in on him, had to go outside and walk around a bit to clear his head.

    Scared the bejeebus out of both of us, one of the bad things, according to the almanac for this year, would be ill health.

    So, I have been running around this morning trying to find a metal 6 rod wind chime for my back door area, (metal combats the bad qui), try that in the dead of winter! I then moved my Pio Xian statues to the North West Corner of the house, (close as I could get was the top of my refrigerator). Then immediately got on-line to order a couple more Feng Shui remedies that he can carry with him, let’s hope all this works!

    Yeh, call me crazy, but I’m not taking any chances…. 😕

    • Blues Tiger says:

      The forboding feeling he is experiencing along with the tightness in his neck and shoulders is because Tigers tend to jump humans from behind and go for the neck and shoulders… They prefer to knaw at those areas for awhile… Feeling like prey tends to make people panic…

      • BigDogMom says:

        Blues Tiger I think your description is right on the mark, I think he does feel like he is “prey”. Thank you for you words of wisdom.

        Going to see a Feng Shui master today to discuss situation and may take him to the Chinese healer that I have seen a few times.

        Hubby has never acted like this in all the years that I have know him, he came home early again last night and just laid on the couch, not like him to do this…starting to really worry.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      BDM, I know very little about Feng Shui and would like to learn more. What little I do know about it seems pretty practical though, in the sense that certain things either feel right/comfortable or they don’t. For example, most of us feel more comfortable when the head of our bed faces the bedroom door-- so that we face the door when lying in bed. Living with a Chinese guy (who claims no belief in Feng Shui), we still never hang a mirror directly opposite the front door, and do sundry other feng shui principles-- mostly because they just feel right.

      And astrology-- I don’t know what to make of it, but once for fun, I found my sun sign in several other traditions--African, Egyptian, Chinese, etc. They were ALL very similar and they all described me very well. (I am a Libra, BTW.)

      EDIT: Panic attacks are the WORST! I used to suffer from them in my twenties, following a near-fatal illness. Just terrible, and I hope the hubster stays well!!!

      • BigDogMom says:

        Feng Shui to me is just as you described it, placing things because they just feel right naturally…there are so many schools of Feng Shui, just like in any religion, some more complex than others. It depends on what feels right for you.

        The Flying Star which uses the Chinese astrology, ie., Year of the Tiger, compass directions, the bagua and Chinese numerology is the most basic and I use that in the house.

        I look at the Chinese Almanac annually to see what direction the bad “qui” or “chi”, or where killing stars direction is going to be that year and use the Form School for landscape design and auspicious plants list.

        Never took it to the extreme like some do, but after yesterday, with this happening the second day of the new year, I may reconsider it!

        • Chernynkaya says:

          I am a true believer in qui. Years ago, I went to a qui gung master --a little old Chinese man who could break piano wires wrapped around himself. He spoke no English, but had an interpreter who spoke a little. I had hurt my shoulder badly.

          First, he held his hands over my body and diagnosed whatever. I was skeptical--very. After he figured our what ailed me, he put some water on a cloth and hovered it over my shoulder. He never touched me at all, but his interpreter told me to say the word “hot” if it got too hot-- Master Chou knew the word “hot.”

          In a couple of seconds--HOT!! He did this a few times, stopping whenever I said “hot.” Man, I mean, it burned like actual fire-- not like that Icy/Hot kind of feeling. Mind you, he never came closer than 3-5 inches to my skin. Now, THAT’S qui! My shoulder felt much better.

          After that session, I met some friends for lunch and they said, “What happened to you?” I said,”Why do you ask?” They said I looked as if I had light beaming out of my eyes! Yep, I believe in qui.

  3. escribacat says:

    And triple happiness back to you, Cher. Thanks for the wonderful article. This makes me homesick for San Francisco.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Thanks e’cat! Yes, I love SF and miss it too. But that’s where I got shell-shocked during one New years celebration. Remember walking through Chinatown then? Good Lord!!

      • escribacat says:

        I used to walk through Chinatown twice a day, to and from work. I started a contest with myself to see how fast I could get through it. It was kinda like doing a slalom! And that’s without the parade!

  4. Khirad says:

    Oh joy! A culture piece! And, as much as “superstitions” are derided, this is why I still like them. They can be an excuse for much merriment!

    My sign. I’ve done it before, but had to do it again, as I’d forgotten. Earth Sheep. I treat it as good fun, but I have to say, the sheep/goat fits me perfectly. The earth part, not so much.

    I already throw in the towel. I can’t compete with the highly succinct, coherent, yet information-packed article such as this. That being said, I might be compelled to write my own on Holi article (Norouz was already a given). It won’t be nearly as complete though. I might just give a brief summary and post several videos. I must say, some comparisons struck me in this. Whether diffusive or independently universal is the “nature vs. nurture debate”; “chicken vs. egg” perennial debate I dare not broach on this lighthearted topic though. I’m altogether unqualified to adequately make my point either way, in any case.

    I also enjoy Buddhism in this respect. I once offended a religious Chinese girl (believed in ghosts and everything as deeply as the most devout Christian) in trying to gently point out certain things about Chinese “Buddhism”. I shan’t get into that more though. I know full well there’s much overlap and amalgamation in popular Chinese folk belief (not to mention mutual influence of several religions and philosophies). In any case, in respect to the girl, this was when I was still in High School and didn’t know when to shut my trap -- no matter how excited I was to discuss the subject at hand. In any case, this is no more Buddhist than Our Lady of Guadalupe is Catholic.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Khirad, I am so glad you mentioned the derision of “superstition” because it made me think about my chauvinism in using that description! Why did that word slip in? I went to Wiki:

      Superstition is a credulous belief or notion, not based on reason, knowledge, or experience. The word is often used pejoratively to refer to folk beliefs deemed irrational. This leads to some superstitions being called “old wives’ tales”. It is also commonly applied to beliefs and practices surrounding luck, prophecy and spiritual beings, particularly the irrational belief that future events can be influenced or foretold by specific unrelated prior events.

      The etymology is from the classical Latin superstitio, literally “a standing over”, hence: “amazement, wonder, dread, especially of the divine or supernatural”[1] The word is attested in the 1st century BC, notably in Cicero, Livy, Ovid, in the meaning of an unreasonable or excessive belief in fear or magic, especially foreign or fantastical ideas. By the 1st century AD, it came to refer to “religious awe, sanctity; a religious rite” more generally.[2][3]

      So, when you get right down to it, religion is a superstition, yet we use that term to talk about beliefs that are outside any canon-- any Western canon, that is!

      When I was reading the Wiki entry, this made me kinda laugh: The image they use for the entry was a Hamsa-- which I collect, and do see as a superstitious charm, but which also made me realize that it’s only OTHER religions that we see as superstitions, never OURS.

      And then this:

      The Roman Catholic Church considers superstition to be sinful in the sense that it denotes a lack of trust in the divine providence of God and, as such, is a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states superstition “in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion” (para. #2110).

      “A perverse excess of religion” That’s cool!

      And PLEASE-- write that piece! And I hope you were being your usual wry wit in talking about competition--There is none, seriously. We each have our areas of specialty, and you know hands down more than I about Hinduism, Islam and certainly about ANY NUMBER of topics. I love your work!

      • Khirad says:

        Well, I used the word too! You were reminding me of a Huston Smith quote there with the talk of superstition. Or maybe something else, like the Noss’s. I’ll dig it up if ever I find it.

        Cher, of course I’m kidding. I’m also actually finding we compliment each other in this regard. You do Judaism, I do Islam; you do China, I do India. There’s a cheesy song in that somewhere and I just know jazz hands are involved somehow. Or hamsa hands!

        By the way, it always reminded me of the abhaya mudra and Jain symbol.

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Khirad, that is amazing. It is the exact same symbol, minus the middle icon! Great. Now I have to get me one of those too.

          EDIT: The song? “You say a mullah, I say a matzo. You say a mudra, I say a hamsa. Mullah, matzo, mudra, hamsa--let’s call the whole thing off.”

  5. Kalima says:

    Japan adopted Buddhist teachings and the Zodiac animal calender in 604AD. We entered The Year Of The Tiger on the first of January. Although nowhere near as festive as the Chinese celebrations, it’s is a time when families get together on the 1st to eat specially prepared “Osechi” comprising of tables so full of different traditional dishes that it might be a good idea to fast for a few days before you go.

    Everything comes to a standstill except for public transportation as many people are not from Tokyo and go back to visit elderly parents, relatives and friends. Most businesses open from the 6th again, with smaller neighbourhood shops opening their doors from the 2nd. It used to be that if you had forgotten to buy everything you needed on the 31st of December, you had to wait until the 4th before a small shop opened within walking distance Now almost every corner has a 7/11 or a Lawson’s opening from the 1st of Jan, great for a new year’s shopping scatterbrain like me, who has cat food written everywhere in bold letters on Post-Its and might forget the milk. 😳

    Tokyo has always been a bustling city, the only time to enjoy peace and quiet here is during New Year and when it snows, it’s just started to snow. :)

    • Kalima says:

      Take no notice of the thumbs up in my comment, I’m playing on my IPod and my finger slipped when I pressed the Edit button. 😳

      • Chernynkaya says:

        Kalima, I had no idea that the Japanese celebrated the year of the tiger, or had adopted the zodiac calendar! And I am also (unpleasantly) surprised that they have 7/11’s there too-- what a blight!

        Every day, when I read TMB, I wish you would write about little slices of like in Tokyo!! I know so little about Japan, other than the usual-- Zen, tea ceremonies, anime, an obsession with bodily cleanliness, martial arts, and a strange love of the cute. Obviously, that’s so stilted and limited. It would be like saying one knows about the US from gangster movies or from Colonel Sanders.

        What kinds of markets do the typical Japanese shop in? Where do they buy clothes, and do they have big closets? Do they eat out a lot, or cook at home mostly? You don’t necessarily have to answer these questions, because I don’t even know the right questions. But please write a little something about Japan? Just a few items would be really interesting-- and you needn’t even write an article.

        • Kalima says:

          Hi Cher, to answer your questions about Japan in order, here goes.

          Depending on which area they live, almost every ward in Tokyo has an abundance of supermarkets and stores for everyday shopping. Even here in the heart of Tokyo a mobile veggie vendor comes once a week, his stuff is good and much cheaper than most places but he’s only here for an hour so I often miss him.

          Most people buy their clothes in the smaller shops or if they can afford it, go to Ginza, where almost every brand name you can think of has their shops within walking distance.

          The area we live in Harajuku, has the most famous street in Tokyo for the younger generation. The street istself is called the Japanese ” Champs-

        • Khirad says:

          Yup, like they imported Kanji, as well.

          • Kalima says:

            Kanji is the Japanese word for Chinese characters adopted by the Japanese in the 4th century. They then introduced their own written language of Hiragana and later Katakana which is often used to translate other foreign languages.

            Most official documents and even simple everyday things are a mixture of Kanji and Hiragana. People brought up in the 60’s read most of the Kanji but the younger generation have difficulties so they often use only hiragana except for their own names which are all written in Kanji.

            For people like me who didn’t come here to study or become an English teacher and was too busy building up our business to study the written language, there is Romaji, a romanization for English speakers using the alphabet, it come in very handy for emails and letters to Japanese friends who don’t speak English.

            There are quite a few English speakers here who learn basic English at school but are not taught the art of conversation. They are sometimes people in their 60’s and 70’s who are quite shy but would try to help me when I got lost on the transit system, ending up in places I had no intention of going to. Many in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s speak enough English to have short conversations.

            Japan is an island with an island mentality, for many people there will never be the chance to live or study abroad, so learning English is not a priority, those that do study it here, move on to either studying, working or living abroad.


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