The Year of the Snake
The Year of the Snake is slithering in.
The Chinese New Year arrives on Sunday February 10 this year. That’s the latest it has been since I started teaching at United International College almost three years ago. So just as Easter affects the calendars of American schools, so does the New Year in China. As a result, our second semester begins and ends much later.
Many modern Chinese folks refer to it as the Spring festival instead of the Chinese New Year. The festive mood it brings is called “nianwei” in Chinese. Traditionally, celebrations ran from the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of that first month. In the 21st century, a family’s celebration is pretty much determined by their vacation schedules from work. Some places close down for an extended period of time; others just a few days. One thing is generally pretty standard: the evening before the Chinese New Year’s Day is when families usually gather for an annual reunion dinner.
You’ll notice I used the verb slither to describe the snake. Unlike the other 11 symbols used to designate the New Year, in my mind this critter just does not make it .The other creatures taken from the Chinese Zodiac to designate the various years seem more noble such as the dragon (last year) or cuddly like the rabbit (the year before). But my Asian friends apparently perceive the snake differently than I do. They look upon snake characteristics as clever, calculating, and driven to achieve their goals. These are traits I should embrace since I was born in the year of the snake.
According to one Chinese horoscope, the snake would be most content as a teacher, philosopher, writer, psychiatrist and fortune teller. Apparently this predictor does not understand that being a teacher involves ALL these traits. The fortune teller part comes on the first day of classes. That’s when I advise students if they are not diligent in their work, their future could feature an “F”.
Right now, preparations leading up to the Chinese New Year have that frantic feel to them…just like Christmas. The stores are quite busy and the shelves are stocked high. Overstuffed gift baskets showcasing all sorts of goodies crowd the shelves. Even the sidewalk sellers seem more numerous these days. In both the stores and on the sidewalks, red underwear is a common item available . Of course it’s always a good idea to change your underwear daily but this is not a hygienic suggestion. Rather, red is considered good luck in the Chinese culture. So apparently your good luck starts underneath your clothing!
Some sellers go for the eclectic tastes. I’m not sure exactly who would appreciate what appears to be a set of antelope antlers. But his display definitely stands out from the others that often offer the same items.
But even with all these choices, the preferred present is the red packet envelope with cash. How much you place inside tends to show how much the recipient means to you.
Decorations are also abundant. Just as Americans purchase signs of the season for Christmas, New Year offerings are popular. You can buy red things ranging from simple cardboard inscriptions to more elaborate red lanterns. I was tempted to buy one of the electrical lanterns for my stash of presents that I bring back home to Western New York each summer. But then I remembered the electrical systems are different. I learned that lesson early on when I plugged in an electric shaver only to have it explode it a cloud of smoke!
Since this is the Year of the Snake, various incarnations of the reptile are all over the place…most of them are cartoonish. But displays like the one in Shunde’s Tsing Hua Yuan_Park are trotting out their ceramic snake pieces. They are a more gritty version of the New Year symbol.
Flowers as well as citrus trees remain popular both for decorating and gift giving. I still find it strange that poinsettias are sold this time of year. Even though they signify Christmas to us, I guess their brilliant red makes them typically Chinese.
And then there’s transportation….on just one recent day there were 6 million travelers heading home for the holidays. For some migrant workers this is the only time each year they l get to see their families.
I’m not aware that resolutions are a part of this New Year’s traditions. Maybe the Chinese have the right idea since American resolutions are usually quickly forgotten…until next year!