With our own New Year having just arrived, and the Chinese New Year fast approaching on January 31st, it seems appropriate to focus on China as we usher in the Year of the Horse, and our first newsletter of 2014.
New Year's celebrations are one of the most important festivals in the Chinese calendar, lasting almost a month and filled with a sense of optimism and promise. It's also steeped in rituals with rich symbolism and traditions originating from legends and myths that date back centuries.
Known as the Spring Festival, and lasting 23 days, Chinese New Year is a time to set the stage for a year of positivity and prosperity. A thorough house cleaning sweeps away any bad luck from the past year, and makes way for incoming good luck. Red scrolls inscribed with symbols for good fortune, happiness, or wealth are hung on doors, and token amounts of money are given out in red envelopes. Firecrackers can also play a significant part in the celebrations, and on the 15th day of the month, red lanterns are hung in personal and public spaces as part of the Lantern Festival.
Legend has it that in China, each new year began with a fight against a mythical creature called the Nian, a beast who emerged from hiding on New Year's Day to terrorize villages, and satisfy his appetite for everything from prepared food and livestock to children. One particular child, however, who happened to be wearing red, succeeded in frightening the Nian away, leading the villagers to believe that red would ward off the beast. For this reason, red scrolls and lanterns were hung on the doors of the village homes to protect them from the Nian. Of course, it probably didn't hurt that a few firecrackers were set off, too.
Eventually the evil Nian was tamed by the monk, Hongjun Laozu, who capitalized on this fear of red by sporting red underwear when he confronted the beast, thereby thwarting the Nian's attempt to eat him.
So if red lanterns aren't your style, you might want to think about adopting red underwear as another New Year's tradition of your own.
(Ironically, China does not follow this custom, but other cultures like Spain, Italy, Turkey and Mexico do, gifting or wearing red underwear as part of their New Year's Eve good luck tradition.)
Whatever your chosen tradition, here's to a new year filled with happiness, good fortune, and exciting adventures!