A BETTER YEAR FOR GOATS - Chinese New Year is Bad News for Monkeys
By Joanna Zhuang / February 1, 2016
Suddenly, there it is - a flash of glimmering red scales as the magnificent dragon emerges from the back of the theater. Perfectly in sync with the pounding rhythm of the drums that fills the room, the dragon marches the length of the auditorium before claiming the stage as its kingdom. Then the real delight begins. The creature bounds from one side of the stage to the other, rolling its head from side to side with each step. As the auditorium lights illuminate the dragon's body, which moves in graceful waves as it follows a ball that taunts it, a collective gasp of joy arises from the audience.
The dragon dance, a cultural tradition designed to bring good fortune and prosperity, flawlessly captures the essence of Chinese New Year. Celebrated on the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar, which happens to fall on February 8 this year, the Chinese New Year focuses most predominantly on the union of friends and family and the generation of good luck for the following year. The holiday, known as the Spring Festival in China, is the most important Chinese celebration of the year and brings together family from all over the country as well as the globe.
The dragon dance represents just one of the countless traditions that adorn the holiday, but it bears the common theme that runs through all of the Chinese New Year traditions: good luck. The red color that appears in the dragon's body is a color that saturates this holiday. From the red lanterns strung from every conceivable surface to the red couplets stuck on the doors and the walls, the color of happiness and good fortune dominates Chinese New Year. The color red also appears in the festival's most common gift of red envelopes, which contain "lucky money" to pave the way for future prosperity. Wearing red underwear represents yet another important tradition of the Chinese, as such an intimate object in the color of luck is believed to minimize any forthcoming bad luck.
The superstitions, however, do not stop at wearing bright underwear. Chinese New Year is a holiday that does not shy away from food. Lucky foods like noodles, whose length symbolizes longevity, and spring rolls, whose gold bar-like shape symbolizes wealth, become especially important on this holiday. Additionally, during the Spring Festival, the Chinese prohibit all cleaning, forbidding everything from straightening up the house to maintaining personal hygiene. I can't remember how many times my mother stopped me from taking a shower on Chinese New Year, for fear that I would wash away the good luck. On the other hand, good luck is reinforced by fireworks. Used to drive away the evil of the coming year, fireworks light up the sky every Spring Festival.
The Spring Festival also marks the transition of the animals of the Chinese zodiac, which bears a total of 12 animals, with each animal representing one year in a cycle of 12 years. The Chinese New Year of 2016 will bid farewell to the year of the goat and introduce the year of the monkey. Contrary to popular belief, the year of one's animal sign on the Chinese zodiac is perceived as the least lucky year of the 12-year cycle. Thus, on February 8 this year, individuals with the goat sign can breathe a sigh of relief, while those with the monkey sign should take a large inhale and be extra careful of any impending danger.
With China's budding influence on the western world and the increasing outward migration of Asians, the Chinese New Year will undoubtedly continue to grow in popularity outside the Asian continent. In our own community, celebrations are held every year by multiple organizations, including the Coral Springs Chinese Cultural Association and the Chinese Association of Science, Education and Culture of South Florida. These celebrations are open to the general public and are often held at local schools. So, as February 8 approaches, put on your best red clothing, stuff some luck into those red pockets, and get ready to watch a Chinese dragon dance of a lifetime.
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