Cool Things: “Chinese” New Year

According to the Chinese Zodiac, the new year begins on February 10th, 2013. Like all great Chinese traditions, this has pretty much ignored any contradictory Western traditions, such as our having our own calendar that’s used pretty much world wide. There will still be huge celebrations in may places across Asia as the Year of the Snake officially begins.

As the child of mixed heritage (is that politically correct?) I’ve always had an interesting relationship with the Chinese New Year. It’s not a holiday my immediate family had any special traditions for, beyond occasionally visiting relatives. On the other hand, to my father’s side of the family it was frequently a time to touch base, enjoy good food and company and generally do everything that Americans generally associate with Christmas (including gift giving!) On the third hand, I could typically mention it to my friends and get nothing more than a blank look.

Ah, the good old days.*

Now there’s this thing called Wikipedia, and it has a table that not only tells you when the Chinese New Year falls, but what the technical term for the Chinese Zodiac is and which of animal’s year we’re about to embark upon (for those wondering, mine is the Year of the Rat, something my sister has always found most appropriate). The Internet and other forms of media are becoming more aware of these and other, similar, cultural events and my own home town of Fort Wayne, Indiana even has a Chinese Association that will be honoring the holiday in grand style.

So what happens on Chinese New Year? Well, a lot of things.

Traditionally, you set if firecrackers and do other rituals to ward off evil spirits. In spite of their relative modernity, the Chinese are still rather superstitious and there’s a while string of activities to ensure good luck and ward against bad luck that are most effective if done on New Year’s Day. Whether they’re continued for their stated purpose, or just to give people a chance to dress up in gaudy clothing and do the Dragon Dance is anybody’s guess – and it probably varies from person to person.

It’s also a time of family. Partly because this was a time to go back to the ancestral home and honor your ancestors – and again, some people probably still do that. But in part because the act of going back to the ancestral home brought everyone back together at the same time. And let’s face it, no matter how tough things are between people, when you cram thirty or forty of them into one house relationships have got to improve somehow – unless there’s a homicide, which probably doesn’t help anything. But anything short of that only serves to build family solidarity.

These days it seems like it takes weeks of planning and a military logistics team for families to get together in any way, shape or form. Sometimes you need an excuse to convince people it’s worthwhile. So go ahead, celebrate Chinese New Year. Go out and eat, cram your entire family into one house and give each other great, huge wads of cash so you can all start the year of in prosperity. And who knows? Maybe next time you won’t need an excuse.

But if you should, my mother’s side of the family can trace its roots back to Germany, where they have this funny little tradition called Oktoberfest…


*This statement is intended to be sarcastic. In case you are one of those people who misses these kinds of things.


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