Next Sunday, February 14th, while Westerners are celebrating St. Valentine's Day, the people of China and ex-pats in Chinatowns everywhere will be ushering in Lunar New Year 4708, the Year of the Tiger!
Chinese New Year is the longest and most important holiday in the Chinese calendar and its dates vary annually as determined by a combination of solar and lunar movements. New Year's Day always falls on the darkest day, the new moon, and the festivities continue for 15 days, until the brightest day, the full moon, celebrated with a Lantern Festival.
According to legend, Buddha asked all the animals to meet with him on Chinese New Year and twelve came. Buddha named a year after each of the animals and proclaimed that people born in that animal's year would inherit some of its characteristics. However, contrary to my fervent hope that the year of one's birth would be a lucky one in the future, my Chinese horoscope for this year was very discouraging!
Traditionally a time for family and feasting, reunion and thanksgiving, the New Year's celebrations a steeped in ancient customs and beliefs. The color red predominates as a symbol of fire, a purifying force that can drive away bad luck. Fireworks are lit so the noise will frighten evil spirits, and wishing trees are decorated with the faithfuls' wish-papers tied on in the hope that their prayers will be answered by the Gods. The Dragon Dance is a highlight of many New Year's celebrations with many dancers participating under a costume that may be 30 feet long.
This year I had the honor of being invited to celebrate the Year of the Tiger, a little early, with a Chinese Celebration Dinner at a restaurant in New York's Chinatown. What a feast! Eleven courses of exotic foods including roast suckling pig, seafood and shark tongue soup, fried rice wrapped in a lotus leaf, ee-fu noodles, red bean dumpling soup and cut up oranges for dessert, all dishes intended to ensure long life and good fortune! All I know is that it was delicious!
As our Chinese friends gather to celebrate this joyous occasion, I share their wish for "Kung Hei Fat Choy", "Congratulations and Be Prosperous" in the year ahead!