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Ready for the Dragon Year

So 2012 will be the Year of the Dragon. Sounds fearsome, but after reading about it, I’ve decided that I’m definitely looking forward to it. The general idea seems to be that after a Year of the Rabbit, which is associated with caution and a disinclination to take chances, a Year of the Dragon is characterized by excitement, unpredictability, exhilaration and intensity. I don’t know about intensity, but personally I’m ready for some exhilaration.

That's pretty exhilarating!

According to sources like chinesenewyear2012.net, Dragon years are lucky for starting a new business because money will be easier to come by, whether it’s earned, borrowed or received as a gift. I’ve done enough borrowing, and all my friends are as poor as I am, so I guess I’m stuck with earning it. The experts caution not to go overboard, since the Year will come to an end and you’ll need to deal with any extravagant projects. I don’t remember having an extravagant project ever in my life, but after the last few years, I’m willing to take a few chances.

Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays, and it’s celebration extends all across East and Southeast Asia, as well as anywhere else the Chinese have stuck down roots. In China it’s known as “Spring Festival” because it marks the end of the winter season, similar to our Mardi Gras carnival. It starts on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, which means it’s not always on the same day according to Western calendars. This year Chinese New Year falls on January 23rd. It’s not an official holiday in the West, but considering that the U.S. Postal Service has issued Chinese New Year themed stamps in the past, I think we have a right to pay attention.

And you need to pay attention, because there are rules traditions:

The house and everything in it should be cleaned, to ensure a fresh start. It’s considered bad luck to clean on the first day of the New Year, so you must get it done ahead of time. In addition, people typically wear new clothes from head to toe to symbolize a new beginning. Wearing new clothes also symbolizes having more than enough things to use and wear in the new year, not so much to impress others as to persuade ourselves. Positive thinking, Chinese style.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, supper is a family feast. Then the next morning children greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year, and they receive money in red paper envelopes. Now, doesn’t that beat a drunken brawl and a hangover?

Red packets to buy and fill

On the second day, traditionally, married daughters go to visit their birth parents. Since in Eastern history daughters who were married joined their husband’s family, they didn’t have as much opportunity to see Mom and Pop. It’s different now, but it’s still a nice idea to make a point of a visit.

And you must be kind to all dogs and feed them, because traditionally the second day is the birthday of all dogs.

The third day is translated as “red mouth” and is generally considered a bad day to socialize or visit with relatives or friends. So take a break from all the good cheer and do something at home alone.

On the fifth day people shoot off firecrackers to get the ancestors’ attention, to ask for their favor and good fortune. This is also the birthday of the Chinese god of wealth, so businesses traditionally re-open on the next day (the sixth day).

The seventh day is called the common man’s birthday and is the day when everyone is suddenly one year older. Since I already became one year older last November, I think I’ll skip this one.

Everyone starts back to work by the eighth day. It’s a custom for store owners to host a lunch with their employees to thank them for the work they have done for the whole year. Not as good as a raise, but a lot better than the cranky crabbing that usually goes on around the end of January.

On the eleventh and twelfth days, friends and family are invited to dinner. And on the thirteenth day, people will eat vegetarian food because they believe it will clean out their stomach after consuming too much food over the last two weeks.

I think I need that one on January 2nd, to clean up after the last two months.

Happy Lanterns

The fifteenth and last day of celebration is known as the Lantern Festival. Families walk the street carrying lighted lanterns, and lighted candles are placed outside houses to guide wayward spirits home.

So in addition to starting fresh, clean and positive, and welcoming wayward spirits home, the Chinese New Year tradition is to reconcile, forget all grudges and sincerely wish peace and happiness for everyone. After two months (actually more like three) of rabid consumerism and stress, I think I’ll seriously consider making the Chinese New Year my favorite holiday.

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