Welcome to the Year of the Fire Monkey!
Before I started working in Richmond, I associated Chinese or Lunar New Year with fireworks, the colour red, and strange timing (New Years was a month ago!). This year, I decided to interview my students and co-workers and ask what they thought were the most interesting parts of Lunar New Year that someone outside their culture might not know about. This was their response:
About a week before February 8th, most of the boys at school (including the teachers) started getting haircuts. Haircuts should be done before the Lunar New Year otherwise you’ll have to wait until about a month afterwards. If you cut your hair during the New Year celebrations (which last for 7 days, and seemingly the month after), you’ll sever your good luck.
Red pocket is gifted money. While I knew that children generally receive red pocket during Lunar New Year, I didn’t know the rules. If you are married, you’re expected to give red pocket. “What if you are 45 and still not married?” I asked. Doesn’t matter, apparently. Marriage signifies adulthood, or at least that its time to give money to children.
Red pocket doesn’t just come out at New Year, though. Red pocket can be given at any time of year, and is also included in celebrations like weddings and birthdays. The other thing is – you can’t refuse red pocket. It would be very bad luck to refuse someones gift of red pocket, so if you know what is good for you, you’ll accept.
I asked a student about the fireworks. “Weren’t they to scare away evil ghosts?”… “Yeah, but we don’t think about that anymore ! Fireworks are awesome !” Fireworks are usually set off on New Years eve, because they are awesome or to scare off evil spirits (depending on who you ask).
Monkeys in the Year of the Monkey:
We are now in the year of the Monkey. What I didn’t know was if you were born in a Monkey year (1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980,1992, 2004) you might not have the best of luck IN a Monkey year. One of my friends is coping with a superstitious mom (a Monkey) worried about a year of poor luck. Apparently this belief stems from the association of Monkeys with strong wind. Two monkeys is too much wind, which can cause property damage and is a sign of money loss.
The Year of the Fire Monkey:
In the twelve year cycle of animals – the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey,rooster, dog and pig, there is an additional cycle of elements – Gold (Metal), Water, Wood, Fire, or Earth. If you are a baby born in the year of the Fire Monkey (1956, or 2016) you will be “ambitious and adventurous” however also a little bit irritable.
On Friday afternoon I could hear the drumming. They’re back ! I said, to a classroom of sleepy Friday afternoon students. I had seen the Lion Dance before, so I knew that it was not, in fact, a dragon, which is a common misconception. Lion Dancers came to our school last year during their visit to local businesses (and I had no idea what was happening).
An easy way to tell the difference is that a lion is normally operated by two dancers, while a dragon needs many people. Also, in a lion dance, the performers’ faces are only seen occasionally, since they are inside the lion. In a dragon dance, the performers’ faces can be easily seen since the dragon is held on poles. Chinese lion dance fundamental movements can be found in most Chinese martial arts.
So the Lion dancers (which are usually part of a martial arts group, or a Chinese guild association) will go around to local businesses looking for “cai qing” (採青) or to “pluck the greens” which is usually lettuce hung on a pole. Tied up in the greens is more red pocket or oranges, which are lucky.
I managed to take a video last year of the Lion Dance (which is shaky and a little noisy) but still cool:
Things to Say:
Happy New Year ! / Xīnnián hǎo / 新年好
Good Luck for this Monkey Year! /Hóunián jíxiáng / 猴年吉祥
Good Fortune According to Your Wishes /jíxiáng rúyì / 吉祥如意
If you are looking for more, you can take a look at this website.
Wishing you a peaceful and prosperous year!