Thursday, February 07, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year! The Year of the Rat!

Happy Chinese (Lunar) New Year! Gung Hay Fat Choi, Lay See Dow Loyr. :-)
I called my parents early this morning to wish them good health, wealth and happiness. It's always better to do that early in the morning vs. later in the day. They were happy to receive my call. :-)

This year is the year of the Rat (rather than mouse??). It's also the beginning of a new Chinese Zodiac Cycle and the year of the Pig ends it. There's an old fable that explains the "pecking" order of the zodiac signs. Unlike the western zodiac cycle, our zodiac lasts a whole year rather than a mere 30 days. By the way, this year is a good year to get married, so contact me when searching for a photographer for your wedding this year. :-)

Chinese New Year lasts 10 days and is considered a major holiday for us and our neighboring countries... except for Japan which celebrates the Western New Year on the first of January. Although the traditional Chinese calendar did not use continuously numbered years, its years are now often numbered and 2008 to be 4706.

I remember growing up in Hong Kong, Chinese New Year was a lot of fun and I looked forward to it every year. My Mom used to make a big fuss by cooking special sweet dumplings, turnip cakes, which she only bakes once a year. It's one of my favorite foods but I only get to eat it once a year. It's a long laboring process, but my Mom always seem to handle it all by herself. She also make a big fuss by buying new shoes for me. It's the only time of the year I get to buy new shoes. YES, once a year! Unlike the US culture, children get new shoes at the beginning of the school year in September. There were years where I would get new clothes too. I remember not able to sleep the night before and waking up early and get all "snazzy up" in my brand new clothes and shoes and ready to visit my relatives who we only visit once a year... yes, Chinese New Year. It's equivalent to Christmas morning for me. I must confess, it's not that I was looking forward to meet my distant aunts (who pinched my cheeks) and uncles, and cousins... it was because I get "Red Envelopes" filled with money. :-) Yes, married adults give out "Lay See" or Red Envelopes to gain good fortunes for their love ones as well as for themselves. We did however, had to rehearse a song so that we can perform in front of our relatives over and over again from one house to the next. Every year is a different song, and I was so young, I didn't even know what I was singing in English. :-) Also, since the New Year lasts 10 days, we didn't have to go to school for a whole week! Now do you see why I used to get so excited about Chinese New Year.

I was however perplexed that every year is a different day. I asked my Mom "why is it not the same day as last year, it's so hard to keep track of?" I was inquisitive because I wanted to know how many days to the New Year. I was told that our culture follows the moon phase to determine months, and therefore years. Whereas, the western civilization follows the traditional long and short months, and every 4 years an extra day in February to adjust for the misalignment to the moon. Whose system is better, who's to say? For me, just tell me when is it, and I will be ready to receive my "Red Envelope", Lay See, Hung Bao.

On a side note: the Space Shuttle Columbia crashed on the morning of Chinese New Year on Feb 1, 2003. It was a sad day for me even though it was Chinese New Year. I remember watching the first Columbia Launch in 1980 as a young lad dreaming of being on the Space Shuttle some day.

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