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Thursday, October 30, 2008

2008 will be a good year...for "Rats"!

As we say goodbye to 2007 and psyche ourselves up for 2008, many of us will make New Year’s Resolutions. This ambitious list may include vows for self-improvement: lose 10 pounds, stop smoking, get a better job, etc. Whether or not we actually succeed in keeping our resolutions, it is certainly a positive and hopeful attitude with which to start a new year.
I began the New Year the way I usually do. (With much fear and trepidation for what the future might bring). Actually, I cleaned my house. From top to bottom.
In Chinese culture, the New Year does not begin until the start of the new lunar calendar. The Chinese year 4706 begins on February 7, 2008. The biggest holiday of the Chinese calendar is surrounded by two weeks of family gatherings, parties and festivals. And it is steeped in superstitious customs and tradition.
Chinese New Year customs are centred on the belief that one must get rid of all bad luck still lingering from the past year, while making room for good luck in the New Year. Tradition dictates that a serious housecleaning is in order, in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve. You might also consider getting a haircut and having a long shower. At midnight on the last night of the year, all doors and windows should be opened, to allow any residual bad luck to escape the home. Brooms, vacuums and other cleaning supplies are then locked away in a closet so that they aren’t inadvertently put to use on New Year’s Day.
Cleaning on the first day of the year is strictly forbidden, as it might “wash away” the incoming good luck for the New Year. You mustn’t wash your hair, sweep the floor or use any sharp knives, as any of these activities might accidentally destroy your incoming luck.
It is customary to wear red or bright orange, as these colours are symbols of good luck in Chinese culture. Good luck would bring high grades, love and romance, prosperity in business and good health. Red and gold banners are hung on doorways, as red brings good luck and gold symbolizes wealth. Red is also believed to scare away evil spirits, such as the monster Nian who is believed to roam the streets on New Year’s Eve.
People of Chinese heritage might follow the tradition of preparing a banquet for their ancestors, called “surrounding the stove”. Fireworks are also set off to scare away evil or uninvited spirits.
After New Year’s Day, it is safe to begin cleaning the house, by sweeping all the dirt and debris to the corners of the room. After about 5 days, it is all right to remove the dirt from the house, by carrying it out the back door. Some people believe that if you absentmindedly sweep some dirt out the front door, a family member will die.
The Chinese believe that their activities on New Year’s Day set a precedent for the upcoming year. For that reason, it is necessary to be considerate to others, to watch what you eat, and to be careful with whom you associate on the first day of the year. Stay away from those in mourning. Pay off all of your debts. Children are given red envelopes of money for good luck, to begin the new calendar.
On the fifteenth day of the new year, the lantern festival is celebrated. Believers write their wishes and requests on scraps of paper and attach them to lanterns, which are then lit and set aflight.
The Chinese year 4706 (beginning February 7, 2008) is the Year of the Rat. According to tradition, Buddha asked the animals to come and celebrate the New Year with him. Twelve animals answered the call, so he assigned each one to a year of the lunar calendar. The last year of the Rat, therefore, was 1996.
People are said to exhibit characteristics of the animal under which sign they are born. Rat-sign people (born in 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972 and 1984) are reputed to be cunning and resourceful, loyal and protective. Some famous “rats” are: Mozart, Capote, and Mata Hari.
If you were born under the sign of the Rat, you might consider taking a few risks, and facing a few challenges. Is it time to make a career change, get married, or have a baby? Granted, these major lifestyle changes take a fair amount of planning ahead, and none of them should be ventured into without serious consideration. But if you believe in the power of the Chinese zodiac, this just might be your lucky year.

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