Monday, February 9, 2009

Kung Hei Fat Choy

I just cursed you out in Cantonese. Actually, no, I wished you Happy New Year, but would you really know the difference?!

So, I've really let you down. Chinese New Year - the biggest holiday this side of the globe and a 15-day celebration no less - ended yesterday and I'm only blogging about it now. I could blame it on our Phuket holiday, but that would be a blatant lie since I had 10 whole additional days to get something about it online. Oh well, I hope you'll still enjoy reading about what is really a fascinating holiday even if it's already over.

First things first, each calendar year is dedicated to a different animal and each year/animal brings with it unique characteristics. The Year of the Ox is supposed to bring prosperity through hard work and fortitude. I was born in the Year of the Rabbit and am therefore articulate, talented and ambitious. Spot on, right?

The former Christmas exhibit-cum-Chinese New Year exhibit in DB Plaza:

Next -- and probably hardest for westerners to grasp, the Chinese New Year doesn't start on the same day every year. It starts on the first full moon of the year (which varies each year) and ends on the following full moon. This year's holiday started on January 26th and ended on February 9th.

Every day during this 15-day period between full moons has a specific meaning and tradition. I won't get into all of them, but one that we chose to celebrate was the 2nd day, also known as the Day of the Dog. This is a day when Chinese people treat dogs with extra care and respect, lavishing attention and treats on them. As we were in Phuket on this day, we asked our helper Lyn to give Victor an extra big crack bone. If you want to read more on the days, this website is chock full of info:

In addition to the various days, there are certain customs that everyone abides by throughout the holiday. Many of them center around giving people money. Married people are supposed to give non-married people money, as this can somehow help them become un-single. (I don't think Bridget Jones would approve.) Oh and the money has to be crisp, new bills and must be held within a small, decorative red envelope. Interesting side note: all the stores here, from Ikea to McDonalds, gave away free packets of these red envelopes, all emblazoned with their logos of course.

You're also supposed to get your house and yourself nice and clean before the first full moon as this sets the tone for the rest of the year. Dirty house = dirty 2009. It's considered very bad luck if you wash or cut your hair during the Chinese New Year (as you were supposed to have taken care of this before that full moon.) While I didn't cut my hair, I certainly washed it. Sometimes luck has to take a backseat to hygeine. Like your hair, your house is supposed to be spic-and-span so you're not allowed to clean it during the holiday. In fact, they say that using a broom during this period will "sweep the luck right out the door" for the year. This one was markedly easier for me.

As for iconic symbols, the kumquat tree is the poinsetta of Chinese New Year. They are EVERYWHERE and even I decided to pick one up when I saw them in our local supermarket. They're really gorgeous and the orange worked perfectly with the color scheme in my dining room!

However, I began to panic when the leaves started falling off after only a few days. It's not like I could sweep them up... Plus, I don't want to read into what a dying kumquat tree means for my 2009.

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