Fifteen Crazy Days


Around this time of year, you might hear a bit about how Chinese New Year is coming up. If you’re an idle collector of multi-culti factoids like me, you may even know a little about its trappings—the red envelopes, the parades with fireworks and dancing dragons, that sort of thing. Since these words are going out into the world in irretrievable print form (destined, in at least two cases, for reading before becoming birdcage liner), I wanted to sound semi-knowledgeable in mentioning this upcoming holiday. Besides, it’s only celebrated by the most populous country in the world—along with other nations, and cities within yet other nations—and is possibly even more all-encompassing in their culture than Christmas is in ours. So, ya’ know, no big deal.

Just the Wikipedia page alone was an education. Did you know the full observance goes on for 15 days, with specific goings-on for each day? I totally didn’t. (And now I no longer envy people who celebrate Hanukkah—this party’s twice as long!) The day we passingly equate with Chinese New Year is only the official start, and that day varies because China uses the lunar calendar for some of its scheduling, including their New Year. Since you asked, it’s on the 31st this year. You’re welcome.

Pretty much the only thing Chinese astrology has in common with Western astrology is that it also has twelve zodiac signs that are said to dictate various aspects of a person’s life. 2014 is a Horse year, so apparently this is a good year in general for travelling and self-improvement. If your Chinese sign is the Horse, you’re said to be extroverted, hardworking, and plain-spoken. I take Chinese astrology with an even bigger grain of salt than I do our version, but it is fun to learn someone’s sign and compare them with the declared traits of their zodiac. For example, I’m a Dog—loyal, contemplative, piss-stubborn. An Eastern fortune-teller wouldn’t confuse me for a highly-ambitious Rat or an appearance-oriented Snake, even though both of them also claim traits I can relate to. But it makes a nice little icebreaker, doesn’t it? Now you know something about me. Hi, how ya doin’.

What started as a casual dig for fun-sized bits of trivia for this article turned into a click-fest that would’ve made my Asian Studies instructor cry tears of joy. There was so much about Chinese New Year I didn’t know, and it was fun to fall down this rabbit hole of research. (Yeah, I’m also a nerd. Hi, how ya doin’?) Global consumer culture, with its apparent goal of planting Starbucks and McDonalds in every nation that can buy their products, hasn’t happened to the extent that some want us to think it has. It’s good to remember that there are traditions, ancient as well as more modern, still going strong out there in spite of it. Learning even a little about them can be a sweet, subtle “fuck you” to creeping homogenization.

So, on that note: Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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Mona Treme sees a lot of evidence that [insert deity’s name here] has a sense of humor, and not just in the mirror.