Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese Lunar New Year, the longest and most important Chinese festival. It is also the oldest in chronological recorded history, dating from 2600 BC when the Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the zodiac. Like the Western calendar, The Chinese Lunar Calendar is a yearly one, with the start of the lunar year being based on the moon’s cycles. Because of this cyclical dating, the beginning of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February.
Lasting 15 days, this year it will begin on January 23 (the first day of the first month in the traditional Chinese calendar) and end with the Lantern Festival on February 9th. A complete cycle takes 60 years and is made up of five cycles of 12 years each.
The Chinese Lunar Calendar names each of the twelve years after an animal. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals just before he departed from earth, but only twelve came. As a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on personality, saying: “This is the animal that hides in your heart.”
This Lunar year, 4709 is the Year of the Water Dragon. Fifth in the astrological cycle, Dragon Years follow the Rabbit and recur every twelfth year.
Anyone born in 1904, 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000 or 2012 is born under the sign of the Dragon.
According to the Chinese, anyone born under the Dragon Sign tends to be a free sprit- innovative, passionate, enterprising, flexible, self-assured, conceited, tactless, quick-tempered and brave.
These personality characteristics are then modified by one of the five Chinese elements of Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth which overlay a 5-year cycle of their own characteristics.
For 2012, that element is Water. Water is said to have a calming effect on the Dragon’s fearless temperament. It allows the Dragon to re-direct its passionate enthusiasm, making him or her a little less conceited, perhaps more perceptive of others. Because Water Dragons are also less quick tempered than others born under the Dragon sign, they are better able to take a step back and re-evaluate a situation. As a result, they tend to make intelligent decisions and deal well with others. Still, they need to learn to take their time and complete one project before starting another.
1952 was the last Water Dragon Year and produced such famous people as the leaders of Russia (Putin) and Singapore (Lee), a tennis champion (Connors), innovator (Craig Newmark, the founder of Craig’s list) and a host of CEOs of such companies as Coca Cola, Exxon-Mobil, Alberto-Culver, Time Warner, Colgate-Palmolive, Viacom, UPS, Radio Shack, Clorox, Tiffany & Company, Hershey, ITT, Macy’s, Xerox, and Walgreens.
The Dragon is the major symbol of good fortune and intense power in Chinese Astrology. For example, the Dragon constellation is accorded the honor of being the guardian of the Eastern sky. According to tradition, the Dragon brings in the Four Blessings of the East: Wealth, virtue, harmony, and longevity. Therefore people born in Dragon years are to be honored and respected.
While the other 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac are earthly animals, the Dragon is a mystical being and therefore special. Sometimes called a karmic sign, it is expected to portend larger than life events (like the dragon itself) for the year. That means spectacular successes as well as crash-and-burn failures.
The Dragon is not, however, just about money. It can also bring new love or renew an old romance. So this is a good year for engagements and weddings.
Chinese New Year is not only celebrated in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Tibet or Taiwan. Countries and territories with significant Chinese populations, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, as well as in Chinatowns elsewhere. This holiday has even had influence on the lunar new year celebrations of its geographic neighbors, as well as cultures with whom the Chinese have had extensive interaction including Korea (Seolial), Bhutan (Losar), Mongolia (Tasgaan Sar). Vietnam (Tet), and the Japanese prior to 1873 (Oshogatsu).
We’ll be heading for some of these places next week to document how Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China and Hong Kong celebrate. Stay tuned!