|Horse Sculpture in park in Zhejiang Province, China, photo by Jakub Halun|
Like so many Chinese festivals, the New Year is a lunar celebration, meaning that it tends to fall between late January and mid-February. So if your birthday occurs before the Chinese New Year, you are still a child of the previous year, associated with that zodiac sign, regardless of what the Gregorian calendar says. (By the way, 2013 was the Year of the Snake, and I was once informed with great earnestness by a Chinese storekeeper helping me shop for a dinner party that "The Horse follows upon the tail of the Snake"--a suitably portentous-sounding phrase!)
Those born in the Year of the Horse are considered to be charming, intelligent, strong-willed, dominant, and accustomed to having their own way. Sounds like a classic alpha, whether male or female! However, as Wood is the prevalent of the five Chinese elements in 2014, children born in this year will supposedly be more reasonable and less impatient than, say, Fire Horses.
Whatever the zodiac animal who predominates, Chinese New Year offers its own traditions, customs, and rituals. For example, it's common to clean house in the days leading up to the New Year, to sweep the bad luck out the door, so the good luck can enter. It's also recommended that, if one is getting a haircut, it should be done before the end of the old year, because hair and good fortune are said to be linked. (Don't ask me to explain that one!)
|Nian costume, photo by Drhaggis|
The Lion Dance enacts some of that legend, with drums and firecrackers providing the former, while the latter is represented by red lanterns, red scrolls, and red robes worn by dancers (those who aren't operating the lion costume from within). Lions with horns are generally considered to be Nians (and traditionally fought with), while hornless Lions dance to drive away bad spirits and are rewarded for their efforts with gifts of fruit, vegetables, and money (in little red envelopes--a pleasant sight for anyone observing the holiday!)
When I was a kid, I used to mistake those shaggy-headed lions with their gaping, flapping mouths for dragons. I later learned that dragons were operated by far more people underneath, and the costume was held aloft on poles, rather than operated by the dancer's hands and feet. But a troupe of lion dancers is still a very impressive sight, whether gamboling, prowling, or rearing aloft to snatch the storekeepers' offerings that dangled from the doorways. And while I haven't made the trek down to Chinatown recently (having become less fond of crowds and explosions over the years), the distinctive drum beat of the dance has become rooted permanently in my aural memory: once heard, never forgotten.
|Lion Dance Troupe by Chinatown Gate in Seattle, Washington, photo by Joe Mabel|
Wishing everyone, East and West, a happy and prosperous New Year! And in honor of the holiday, I'm giving away signed copies of both of my books, Waltz with a Stranger and A Song at Twilight, to one commenter until midnight, PST, February 2 (yup, Groundhog Day). Please leave your email address if you would like to enter the giveaway.