This was a weekend of celebration for me. I was celebrating my mom, Joanie’s, 70th birthday (for more on her turning 70 see her blog www.arollingcrone.blogspot.com), and my Uncle Bob and Aunt Robin’s 20th anniversary. But I also joined Asians all over the world by observing Chinese New Year, mainly by stuffing my face.
The Chinese calendar has a 12 year cycle, and each year is named for an animal. As of February 3d, 2011 has been the Year of the Rabbit, also known as Xin Mao, and the year 4708 in the Chinese Calendar. (One exception: in Vietnam the Year of the Rabbit is known as the Year of the Cat.) But despite the Feb 3 start date, I’m not behind the times in celebrating! Because while the Chinese New Year festival begins on the first new moon after the winter solstice (Feb 3 this year), it lasts for 15 days, ending with the Lantern festival.
In researching Chinese New Year, I’ve learned of a number of lovely traditions that take place during the two week or so period; on the second day of Chinese New Year, married women traditionally visit their parents, a special occasion since, traditionally, Chinese brides have gone to live with or near their husband’s family after marriage. And the seventh day is known as “the common man’s birthday”, when every single person grows another year older (a culturally-approved way to mask your age? Love it!). And on the 15th day, in Malaysia and Singapore, single ladies write their phone numbers on mandarin oranges and toss them in rivers or lakes, where single men pick them up and eat the oranges to see if the love they might build with the woman who set the citrus afloat will be sweet or bitter. I assume if it’s sweet they reassemble the peel and give the lady a call for a blind taste-test-meets-blind-date.
But my favorite thing about Chinese New Year is that, even more than with Western New Year, there’s a huge emphasis on luck. You eat foods that are meant to be lucky, like long noodles at the end of a meal for long life, or whole fish for abundance. At Joanie’s birthday dinner at Chinatown Brasserie on Feb. 4, we ate both long noodles at the end of the meal, and shrimp and spinach dumplings shaped like rabbits (see above). Beyond the food, there are a lot of decorations in auspicious red (which scares off evil spirits). Many of these decorative items and souvenirs are in the shape of the animal who is being celebrated during the year.
Each year, along with having an animal, is assigned an element such as wood, earth, fire, or metal. I was born in the year of the wood tiger (grr!), but I do think that the rabbit is a particularly cute looking mascot (as opposed to, say, the rat or the snake. Sorry, rats and snakes.). Elementwise, 2011 is the year of the Metal Rabbit (also known as the year of the Golden Rabbit or White Rabbit). The Year of the Rabbit is supposed to be calmer and more peaceful than the year of the Tiger which preceded it, with more emphasis on artistic pursuits. Babies born in the year of the rabbit are said to be creative and sensitive, and the metal element makes them more determined and persistent than other rabbits. Here are some adorable rabbits I saw this weekend.
One final thought: I’ve also learned that on the 13th day people eat entirely vegetarian diets to cleanse their systems of all the rich food they’ve eaten so far. After this weekend, I may have to do just that, as this tiger happened to make a pig of herself while celebrating this year of the rabbit…and loved every minute of it.