Happy New Year! As you may or may not know, we have just welcomed in the Year of the Rat. Chinese New Year celebrations began on February 7, 2008 and will continue for 15 days, ending with the Lantern Festival.
For those of you who have had limited success with their New Year resolutions in the past, here is a second chance�
For me as a child growing up in Malaysia, Chinese New Year was always a time of year that was filled with excitement, the highlight probably being the thrill of setting firecrackers off in the street and eating until we could eat no more! The festival-like mood amongst my family and friends is etched into my memory as a happy time of year. As kids we would visit our Chinese neighbours and even though we weren�t family, they would always include us in their New Year feast and have red pockets of money for my siblings and I. Usually that money was very wisely spent on either firecrackers or sweets!
The story of how the Chinese Lunar Calendar came to be named after animals has always been a favourite of mine. Here is the version that I grew up hearing:
Legend has it that Lord Buddha called for all of the animals to come to him before his departure from earth. Upon hearing the request the cat shared the news with the rat and they decided that they would go together the next morning. Come morning, the rat being the cunning creature that it is, decided that it was going to go alone and failed to wake the cat. Not only did the rat deceive the cat but when he saw the ox coming, he jumped on his back, only to jump off just in time to cross the finish line first. As a token of his appreciation to the animals that did make the journey, Buddha decided to name a year after each of the animals in the order that they arrived. Of course there is no year of the cat and to this day cats still hate rats�
As I reflect on the Chinese New Year celebrations, it reinforces to me just how lucky we are to live in a world that is so diverse. It is easy to forget that not every culture in the world welcomes in the New Year on January 1.st. New Year holds a variety of meanings for different cultures. There are so many different rituals and customs that are celebrated at various times of the year. For example Tet in Vietnam, the Rites of Songkran that are celebrated in Thailand, to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In Australia we tend to focus our thoughts on the year ahead, setting goals and making plans for a better life; while those celebrating the Jewish New Year use this time as one for introspection, looking back on the mistakes of the year just been and making plans to bring about changes and seek reconciliation with the people that may have been wronged during the year.
However we celebrate the beginning of a New Year, it is usually an occasion that is celebrated with friends and family who share the same meanings. Although I no longer share Chinese New Year with my Chinese neighbours I do remember them at this time of year with fond memories and appreciate the inclusiveness and generosity that they extended to my family, allowing us to feel a part of the Chinese community at such a significant time.
The year of the Rat is said to be one of prosperity and opportunity - Kung Hei Fat Choy!