Year of the Dog

Just when we thought the holidays were over, it’s time to celebrate again.  Happy Chinese New Year or Guònián hǎo!

The Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the lunar calendar which is different every year because it is based on the movement of the moon. This year the New Year begins on February 16. I mention “begins” because the holiday lasts for 15 days and is filled with many ritualistic celebrations. The 12 animal signs that make up Chinese astrology are based on varying myths of the Jade Emperor summoning all of the creatures on earth for a race and awarding the first 12 to cross the finishing line a sign in the Chinese zodiac. The myth has many fantastical layers and can make for some interesting and fun storytelling with your children. Digging even deeper, we find that the Chinese astrology system not only revolves around the 12 animals but also on five elements; fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Because the animals are on 12 year cycles and there are 5 elements, the Chinese zodiac-element cycle lasts 60 years!

2018 celebrates the Year of the Dog. If you were born in 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 or 2006 you are thought to be, like a dog, loyal and honest. Dog attracts many friends on account of her friendly and generous personality. Those born in 1958 and 2018 have the additional component of being an Earth Dog. Earth Dog is very trustworthy and is highly valued on a professional and social level. To others, Dog is our best friend and can understand human spirit. The Chinese regard Dog as an auspicious animal. If a dog happens to come in the house, it symbolizes the coming of fortune.

In Chinese Medicine, the Earth Element involves the organs of the body- the spleen, the stomach and the pancreas. According to Lillian Pearl Bridges, the founder of the Lotus Institute, this is considered a good year for health but there are some health conditions exacerbated by the Earth year. The most common will be digestive disorders. While food is important during the Earth year, be mindful not to overeat and choose nourishing foods. Bridges also states that there will be an increased emphasis on eating fresh foods from the garden and that grass fed beef, milk and butter will be viewed as healthy food.

One of the most common rituals celebrated during Chinese New Year is the reunion dinner. Families gather to commemorate the past year while eating foods with symbolic meaning. Fish symbolizes an increase in prosperity, dumplings and spring rolls are connected to wealth and longevity noodles are eaten for happiness and …longevity! Fireworks are a big part of the festivities. More fireworks are set off at midnight beginning Chinese New Year than any other time in the world. Most mainland Chinese people believe that all of the flash and noise of the fireworks scare away demons and evil ghosts. The Chinese also believe that the color red can ward off evil spirits, as well as bringing happiness wealth and prosperity. This is why houses are decorated with red lanterns, red paper cuttings and the majority of people are dressed in red. Instead of wrapped presents, children receive red, shiny envelopes stuffed with money. The 15th day of the celebration ends with the Lantern Festival. Once again, families gather for dinner, light fireworks and light lanterns. The lanterns are then let loose to fly or to float in rivers.

You don’t have to be born under the sign of the Dog to celebrate Chinese New Year. It is a joyous holiday for one quarter of the world’s population and is a wonderful time for others to learn more and participate in ancient Chinese culture and customs. Xīnxiǎng shì chéng-may all your wishes come true and Shēntǐ jiànkāng-enjoy good health!

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