A New Cycle
Just shy of a month ago, we celebrated the turn of a decade, and now we are on the eve of another new beginning. Tomorrow marks the first day of the Lunar New Year and a new cycle of the zodiac landing on the year of the Rat. Contrary to the Western view of rats as disease carriers and creatures of the urbanized-underworld, the rat is considered a protector and bringer of prosperity in the Chinese culture. According to the lore, the rat is the first of the zodiac cycle due to being resourceful, intelligent, and quick-witted. It is also a new cycle of the elements. The elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water all cycle through the zodiac before moving on to the next, therefore making this new year the year of the Metal Rat. (Anyone else imagine a punked-out rat when they hear that?).
The Chinese have many traditions when approaching the new year. These are thought to bring luck, wealth, prosperity, good health, good career prospects, and love. We thought it would be interesting to see how we can re-approach them through a more modern lens.
1. Clearing out the old, and ushering in the new
Before the new year, tradition dictates that the house be cleaned from top to bottom, not a single corner missed or window un-scrubbed. Old and unused articles of clothing are let go and a new outfit is donned. Cleaning the house is said to release the bad luck of the past year and to create space for good luck in the new year. Perhaps there are other aspects of our lives that we can apply this same principle. Are there any people in our lives that bring do not serve our luck and fortune? Are there any patterns of behaviour that we hold on starting from the benign like biting our nails or midnight snacking, to the more malignant like allowing people to take advantage of us with time, money, energy, etc? It's time to scrub those proverbial windows in our life and perhaps we may experience a new view.
2. Spending time with family, friends, and loved ones
Our family, our community, our tribe, mean everything in the Chinese tradition. One cannot be without the many pushing them forward in support. During this holiday, we take the time to spend time with the ones we love, to come back to the core whether it be with your blood family or your chosen family. We all need our backup and however and whomever you find that with, the Lunar New Year asks us to celebrate that we are never alone. It brings the people most vital in one's life and celebrates the successes of the individual as shared success. It reminds us that nothing can be done solely by the efforts of one. There is always someone in your tribe that may have financially supported you, emotionally, or just simply believed in you. Recognition of the ones around you that hold you up opens space for gratitude that may not often be expressed.
3. Wear it bright and bold
The colour red is thought to be auspicious and bring good fortune and luck. It was also thought to ward away a monster as it was afraid of the colour red. In an increasingly grey and concrete urban world, it never hurt to bring more joy and vibrancy through the medium of colour. Why not break the monotony with the punchiest, most exuberant, most luministic shades? We may not have a monster with claws and sharp teeth to ward away with colour, but perhaps it could aid in parrying some more subtle and sinister monsters like stress, depression, loneliness, even just for a fleeting moment.
Once heard in a documentary that it was impossible for Chinese families to express emotions unless we were surrounding large quantities of food. Sitting around a shared meal made it easier as if the action of ingesting and digesting food helped ingest and digest difficult emotions. We Chinese love to eat, not because we are gluttons, but because to us, food is love, food is medicine, food is pleasure, food is family. And if the new year is meant to be surrounded by ones we love, then food definitely falls in that category.
5. Pray at the temple
Though many are no longer religious, I see this tradition as more of an intention setting. Placing your hopes and dreams out into the space beyond your physical body to usher in new energy and renewed luck. Honouring your past and your family's past as a foundation of pushing forward into the future with bright eyes and an open heart. Whether or not you believe in prayer, I do think there has to be something said about the power of intention. Actions are empty without intention, and damn, we've got enough of that in this world.
6. Passing out red pockets
Little red envelopes or ‘pockets’ filled with money are passed out to children and the unmarried. Though the tradition is a little dated dictating who should receive and give these monetary morsels based on their marital status, the sentiment of sharing wealth shows a beautiful sense of community and that the wealth of one should be the wealth of the tribe. Giving out red pockets to children can be seen as investing in the future, whether they save that money or blow it all on sweets. Our wealth, whatever that may mean to you is meant to be shared, not to be hoarded locked away in a dark chamber to collect dust. Perhaps if we shared a little more of our wealth, it would find its way back in a more meaningful and precious way.
So to everyone who does or doesn't celebrate the Lunar New Year, perhaps you can take some principles of this beautiful holiday into your lives. What other Lunar New Year traditions do you and your family have? Let us know in the comments below.