Lunar New Year: Hedging One’s Bets

lunar new year

The Lunar New Year, Year of the Goat/Sheep/Ram, is at hand. In honor of the occasion my acupuncturist — this traditionalist writer is an absolute convert to acupuncture – offered a special gift, in the form of instructions about how to start the year in the most auspicious way.

A good start is halfway to success, according to an old Chinese proverb quoted atop the instruction sheet.

“Both the timing and direction of your initial exit from wherever you are on February 19th, 2015 are of utmost importance,” reads the instruction sheet. We are admonished to make our initial exit between 5 AM and 7 AM, or between 11 AM and 1 PM. “To welcome good luck, walk in the South West direction. To invite divine help and wealth-spirit, walk in the West direction. Please do not have initial exit facing the South direction…”

Well, here’s the problem. The only exit from the building in which I live faces south. Walking in a southwest, direction, furthermore, will take me straight into the Post Street traffic, not a good way to start any year. I’m unlikely to get moving early enough to be headed out by 7 AM, and if I wait until 11 there will be meetings missed.

None of this is to disrespect the Lunar New Year.

Depending on which part of the Lunar-calendar-observant world you live in, festivals, rites and customs (such as the above) abound. My current favorite, passed along by a State Department friend newly arrived in Hanoi, is this one: “Vietnamese tradition,” she writes, “holds that, a week before the Lunar New Year, each person should release a live carp into the lake. The Kitchen God then rides the carp to Heaven, and reports to the King of Heaven about whether the people in that person’s family have been ‘naughty or nice.’ The King of Heaven either rewards or punishes the family, based on the Kitchen God’s yearly report.” The tradition strikes my diplomat-wife friend as “A little bit eastern, a little bit Christmas-y and a little bit smelly.” But definitely good for anyone fishing for carp – and unworried about pulling in one with a Kitchen God riding on its back.

Like the eastern mysteries of exit times and feng shui, western religions have plenty of their own.

Soon after studying the instructions about starting the Year of the Goat, I went to a Sunday morning Presbyterian church service about the transfiguration of Jesus. (Transfiguration comes right before Lent, if you’re following these lines of thought.) For serious-but-still-questioning Christians such as this writer, the transfiguration ranks right up there with the resurrection and the ascension. Disputed and discussed from every corner of Christendom (certainly including poor, avowedly neutral Wikipedia), these are central to the faith – and you want to believe, because the faith has such good, basic stuff about how to live in the world – but still. Most Christian beliefs require little more than loving justice, mercy and one’s fellow creatures and working to advance them all. But around holidays we do get pretty zany about Santa and the Easter Bunny; so stockings are hung and eggs are hidden — just in case.

Which brings the story back to personal behavior up to and on February 19. This sideline observer will pass on the carp thing, but my New Year’s Day plan is to exit the building sideways, facing west.

 

The Year of the Tiger Roars in

Quick! Sweep the floors and clear the bad spirits away. Once the Lunar New Year arrives you’ll want to put off housekeeping so as not to sweep the good spirits out. February 14 marks the coming of the Year of the Tiger.

The Year of the Tiger, sandwiched in between the Year of the Cow (2009) and the Year of the Rabbit (2011) is the third sign in the Chinese Zodiac cycle. Its New Year’s Day brings with it — as all new year’s potentially do — hope and truth, good fortune and peace. Not bad for a day that this year falls on Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love and affection.

If you’re a Tiger (skip the puns, this is a serious report) you are strong and lucky but prone to trouble. Brave and courageous, caring and thoughtful but a little rebellious at times. You are in the company of tigers Jon Stewart (1962), Jay Leno and Gary Larson (1950), Judy Blume and Kofi Anan (1938), Alan Greenspan (1926), Joe DiMaggio (1914), Agatha Christie (1890) and who knows how many other brave and courageous, occasionally prone to trouble good folks.

In New York and San Francisco, Los Angeles and Atlanta there are celebrations of the New Year with parades and festivities, dumplings cooked and feasts shared, red lanterns lit and red paper envelopes of money distributed. Around the world — one nice thing about this holiday being the fact that we share it with China, Indonesia, Hong Kong and other festive sites — there will be marching music, tiger hats and lion dancers. On my block there are always fire crackers, thanks to the grandchildren of our Chinese neighbors George and Annette, popping in the street to ward off the evil spirits. Which is clearly why you will find no evil spirits around our neighborhood.

So bring in the oranges and tangerines (symbols of good luck and great wealth) and hang the red paper hearts. Kick back, nibble sweets and enjoy a good excuse to put off housecleaning.  Who knows whether it will roar or rebel, we might as well welcome the Year of the Tiger with joy… and hope.