Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Year of the Ox

We are all about the holidays this year in Hong Kong. It seems that Christmas just ended, the kids went back to school, Tori had her birthday and all of a sudden Chinese New Year was upon us. Chinese New Year is a flexible date, typically taking place in February but following the lunar cycles. The holiday always falls on the first day of the first lunar month of the year and this year that was January 26, 2009. The holiday then ends 15 days later with a concluding lantern festival.

All Chinese years are linked to the Chinese zodiac. This year is the Year of the Ox, the second in the 12 year cycle. In addition to the zodiac animal, certain years are also linked with elements from both heaven and earth. For example, our first year here was the Year of the Golden Pig. I don’t understand this secondary cycle very well and can’t even say which type of Year of the Ox we are now starting. I do know that Tori is not just a dragon but a golden dragon. Tori was born in January 2001, the Year of the Snake. Prior to moving to Asia, we always thought she was a snake but now realize her zodiac depends on when the lunar New Year falls, not just the calendar year. Anyway, she is not a snake but instead a golden dragon. Tori is thrilled with her recent upgrade.

Chinese New Year traditions all have their roots in ancient myths. At this time of year, the most prevalent myth is centered around the sea creature called Nian. Nian used to emerge every year and take food, livestock and children from local villages. At some point, villagers realized that Nian was scared by a child’s red coat. Since then the color red and firecrackers have been used at the New Year to scare away Nian and any possible bad luck.

For the first time ever, we all went to see the fireworks in Hong Kong at night. The Hong Kong government hosts a fireworks display in the harbor on the second day of the New Year. We weren’t thinking so much about bad luck as we were about the fact that the kids are a little older and can stay awake later. Also, the kids had the whole week off from school due to the holiday so no need to wake up early. Anyway, we went out on the harbor on a boat and watched the fireworks from the water. As we ate our picnic dinner and watched the fireworks with the city skyline as a backdrop, it definitely seemed like a holiday. The display ended with a fireworks launching boat catching on fire and police boats whizzing around. Despite the side-line drama, we were there in Central, celebrating the holiday in a traditional way along with everyone else. For the first time Chinese New Year felt like a holiday, even for us.


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