Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012 - The Year of the Dragon

The Chinese New Year began January 23, 2012. Thus begins the "Year of the Dragon" according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The last time it was the "Year of the Dragon" was in 2000 and the world kept right on spinning into an awesome new millennium. Through the years back home we've patronized many Chinese-American restaurants.  Often the table is set with paper place mats indicating the 12 Chinese Horoscope animals which correspond with birth years.  It was always innocent fun for our crew to discover the correct animal for their birthday and chat about it's significance between the early egg roll arrival and the appearance of several domed stainless dishes.  Our immediate family has a Tiger, Monkey, Rooster, Rat and Dragon among us.  I was born in the Year of the Dragon, so this, I'm told is going to be my year! The dragon signifies change and reform and is quite powerful.  I'm to wear something red that is visible all year long to bring me good fortune and happiness. Scarf? Coat? Bracelet? Ring?  I haven't decided what it will be, any suggestions?  [The Big Guy did suggest stocking up on red undies...]

I'm not superstitious at all and I do think it ridiculous that everyone born within a certain lunar month or year would all have similar personality traits but I'll play along this year for grins and chuckles.  However, I will stick my dragon-like neck out there and make a grand and general statement:

Chinese people are quite superstitious.  

They avoid the "unlucky" number four.  They don't want it to show up in their cell phone number, their address or license plate.  I've learned that you should NEVER give someone 4, 40 or 400 of something as a gift. Since the Mandarin pronunciation of the number four (si) is similar to the word "death" - (si),  "4" isn't a number you want to get close to. In some parts of China a buildings 4th floor is designated as Floor "F."   

 A "lucky" number is eight , (which is funny because that has been our lucky number since we were married on the 8th day of May-in a previous century.)  The number eight is highly sought after and I'm told that people pay extra to have more "8's" show up in those items I mention above. The pronunciation of the number eight is "ba" and similar to "ba-ba" which is father and elders are respected, therefore....well you get the point.  A simple enough superstition.  It's fun to be on the lookout around Nanjing for number "8's" and the lack of number "4's" in license plates and such as we tool through the town.

We have been regaled by the sound of firecrackers in Nanjing ever since we moved here at the end of March 2011. This is not just a childish sport as grown adult people purchase and heavily participate in setting them off.  Sometimes they are lit by construction workers on a rainy day in great hope that the loud noises will scare away the rain. Other times they signify a wedding or family-focused celebration.  And sometimes, well, we don't know WHY they are lighting them!  I asked our Mandarin instructor, Stefanie, about this tradition.  She told me to expect ALOT of fireworks on the eve of the Spring Festival/New Year. She also told me a Chinese fable about this tradition's origin. It goes something like this:

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Once upon a time there lived a very awful people-eating monster named Nián. He terrorized villagers on the last night of every year. Needless to say, all the people feared him. They didn't want him near their village. As the New Year approached the villagers anticipated Nián's unwelcome arrival. The Spring Festival and New Year should be a time of celebration but the fear of Nián was very strong. The villagers sought a solution each year but nothing worked. Each year he would return to eat more people!   With all the home fires producing tasty dishes for that year's fabulous feast, one house caught fire. The flames were red hot and the timbers popped and crackled.   The villagers near the fire were safe from Nián, but outside the ring of fire the remaining villagers were not. 

 A man with great wisdom said, "Nián is afraid of fire and noise!  This is one way we can scare him away every year! Let's use red hot fire to keep bad things, like Nián, away from our village and our people."  And so from that year forward they did just that.  This is is why the Chinese use fireworks, firecrackers and display the color red.  They adorn their doors and windows with red symbols to keep evil off of their doorstep and invite good fortune and happiness into their homes for the New Year, instead.

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In anticipation of all the noise and hoopla many of our expatriate friends have left China to vacation elsewhere for the holiday week. We stayed put mostly because we had just returned from Harbin, China's Ice Festival the weekend before <see post entitled "Cold, but it's a Dry Cold"> but also to say we've experienced a REAL Chinese New Year celebration.  I was quite surprised that the air was particularly still and quiet the week leading up to New Year's Eve.  What's the Big Deal?  Is this all there is?     
And then midnight of the New Year approached.

Here's a clip from the Big Guy's cell phone looking East out our third story balcony at 12 midnight. I wanted to dash and get the Nikon, but did NOT want to miss the show!

The sights and sounds went on non-stop at this intensity for well over 30 minutes! The sky was also on "fire" in the North, South and West quadrants of our skyline.  Thick air stung our noses with the acrid smell of gun powder and the streets were littered with red cardboard casings and boxes the following morning.  What we experienced rivaled any grand finale firework display we have ever seen.  We were awe-struck and glad we stayed in our jammies in Nanjing for this year's show right outside our door. Little did I know that within my lifetime I'd experience a Chinese New Year up close and personal while residing in mainland China.
Nián, thankfully, was nowhere to be found!  

Xīn nián kuài lè! 
Happy Chinese New Year, Everyone!
Wishing you a Prosperous, Healthy Year with Good Fortune!

Thanks for Reading,

p.s. the fireworks and noise continue.....day three.  Apparently Nián is still a threat to some of our villagers. This "Year of the Dragon" may 'drag -on' for awhile...Pop! Pop! Pop!


Glee said...

Who knew? Greg and Meredith are both dragons!! I'm trying not to feel typecast as a pig....

ellen said...

Happy New Year from the Dog!

Becky in Alaska said...

Carol, I am also a dragon. And those that know me are not surprised!