Sawatdee pi maï (wan trut ciin)
THE YEAR OF THE RABBIT
A Chinese proverb states that all creations are reborn on New Years Day.
On February 3rd 2011, the Chinese year of 4079 begins its reign of rebirth, and its people commence the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar.
Chinese months are determined by the lunar calendar, with each month beginning on the darkest day. New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is at its brightest. In China, people may take weeks of holiday from work to prepare for and celebrate the New Year. There is an incredible amount of age-old tradition tied into this event, and we take the opportunity to join with this graceful culture in the pursuit of rejuvenating ourselves. In the Far East, this is also the end of winter and the beginning of spring as farmers begin to plant for the new harvest. Thus, the Lunar New Year is also called the Spring Festival. The Chinese New Year is a celebration of new life and possibilities, out with the old and in with the new, so it is that we will begin there.
As you stand outside of your holiday home at Coconut Resort, or exit the shop from where you were tangled amongst the beautiful hand-carved statues of elephants and Buddha, you may come face to face with the head of a dragon or a lion, and even jump out of your skin as an onslaught of fireworks light up the street. There is an incredible amount of custom born from myth, which will help to explain some of the festivities that take place during the celebration of the Chinese New Year. We will attempt to give you the highlights, the do’s and don’ts, and what you may not see happening behind the scenes. So follow with us, as we complete our checklist to enter the New Year, and join in the high spirits that will fill the streets of Samui.
According to legend, in ancient China, the Nián was a man-eating beast from the mountains (in other versions from under the sea), which came out every 12 months somewhere close to winter to prey on humans. People later believed that the Nian was sensitive to loud noises and the color red, so they began to scare it away with explosions, fireworks and the liberal use of the color red. These customs led to the first New Year celebrations. Guò nián, which means to celebrate the New Year, literally meaning the Passover of the Nian.
CONGRATULATIONS AND BE PROSPEROUS
Our traditional greeting that we use today loosely translates to “Congratulations and be Prosperous”. Often mistakenly assumed to be synonymous with “Happy New Year,” its usage dating back several centuries. While the first word of this phrase had a much longer historical significance (legend has it that the congratulatory messages were traded for surviving the ravaging beast of Nian, although in practical terms it may also involve surviving the harsh winter conditions,) the last two words were added later as ideas of capitalism and consumerism became more significant in Chinese societies around the world. The saying is now commonly heard in English speaking communities for greetings during Chinese New Year in parts of the world where there is a sizable Chinese-speaking community, including overseas Chinese communities that have been resident for several generations, relatively recent immigrants from Greater China, and those who are transit migrants (particularly students.)
RABBIT – BORN IN 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999
Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people who were born in each animal’s year would obtain some of that animal’s personality. 2011 is predicted to be a placid year, very much welcomed and needed after the ferocious year of the Tiger. We should go off to some quiet spot to lick our wounds and get some rest after all the battles of the previous year.
Good taste and refinement will shine on everything and people will acknowledge that persuasion is better than force. This is to be a congenial time in which diplomacy, international relations and politics will be given a front seat again. We will act with discretion and make reasonable concessions without too much difficulty.
However, it is also a time to watch out that we do not become too indulgent. The influence of the Rabbit tends to spoil those who like too much comfort and thus impair their effectiveness and sense of duty. Law and order will be lax; rules and regulations will not be rigidly enforced. No one will seem very inclined to bother with these unpleasant realities. They will be busy enjoying themselves, entertaining others or simply taking it easy. The scene is quiet and calm, even deteriorating to the point of somnolence. We will all have a tendency to put off disagreeable tasks as long as possible. A time for a long awaited holiday!
The fortune of this year lies in the fact that money can be made without too much labor. Our lifestyle will be languid and leisurely as we allow ourselves the luxuries we have always craved for. What one would consider a temperate year with unhurried pace. For once, it may seem possible for us to be carefree and happy without too many annoyances.
In order to begin the year, as well as to sustain throughout the year good luck, there are some very important rituals that one must perform. Most of these are quite simple to the average person, others not so practical. Follow this checklist to ensure your complete success to achieving and keeping your good fortune!
THE DOs CHECKLIST
- Open all windows and doors. This is to let the Old Year out and to allow the New Year to enter.
- Switch on all your lights for the evening heading into the New Year. It is considered good luck to ‘scare away’ ghosts and spirits of misfortune that may compromise the luck and fortune that is coming your way.
- Eat lots of candy to ensure a ‘sweet’ year.
- It is important to have the house completely clean from top to bottom before New Year’s Day. It is frowned upon to clean the house after New Year’s Day.
- Some believe that what happens on the first day of the New Year reflects the rest of the year to come. Asians will often gamble at the beginning of the year, hoping to obtain good luck and prosperity.
- Wear a new pair of slippers purchased before the New Year, it signifies stepping on those who gossip about you.
- The night before the New Year, bathe yourself in Pomelo leaves; some say this will bring good health for the rest of the year.
THE DON’Ts CHECKLIST
- Buying a pair of shoes is considered bad luck amongst some Chinese. The word ‘shoes’ is a homophone for the word ‘rough’ in Cantonese, or ‘evil’ in Chinese.
- Buying a pair of pants is considered bad luck. The word ‘pants’ is a homophone for the word for ‘bitter’ in Cantonese. (Although some perceive it to be positive as the word ‘pants’ in Cantonese is also a homophone for the word for ‘wealth’.
- A haircut is considered bad luck. The word ‘hair’ is a homophone for the word for ‘prosperity’. Thus ‘cutting hair’ could be perceived as ‘cutting away your prosperity’ in Cantonese.
- Washing of your hair is also considered to be washing away one’s own luck. (Although hygienic concerns tend to take precedence over this tradition)
- Sweeping the floor is usually forbidden on the first day, as it will sweep away the good fortune and luck of the New Year.
- Talking about death is inappropriate for the first few days of Chinese New Year, as it is considered inauspicious as well.
- Buying books is bad luck because the word for ‘book’ is a homonym to the word ‘lose’.
- Avoid clothing in black.
- Avoid vulgar words.
11% of the population in Thailand is comprised of people of Chinese ethnicity. You will find that the celebrations on Samui are full hearted, and at these Chinese New Year celebrations people wear red clothes, decorate with poems on red paper, and give children ‘lucky money’ in red envelopes. In the depths of the local villages, tradition will follow centuries of practice, family representing itself as the most important feature. Family members will travel great distance to reunite with their loved ones, to share meals, and to rekindle the spirit of new beginnings.
Chinese New Year ends with the lantern festival on the fifteenth day of the month. The streets of Samui will be ablaze with these lanterns, some of which may be works of art, painted with birds, animals, flowers, zodiac signs, and scenes from legend and history. Participants of this festival will hang glowing lanterns in temples, and carry lanterns to an evening parade under the light of the full moon. On our island, you will see them hanging across main roadways and carried by revelers during the highlight of the Lantern Festival, the Dragon Dance. The dragon, which might stretch a hundred feet long, is typically made of silk, paper, and bamboo. Traditionally the dragon is held aloft by young men who dance as they guide the colorful beast through the streets. The Procession of the Golden Dragon is probably among the most iconic images of Chinese culture. The performance represents the Dragon King descending to the earthly realm to bestow blessings upon the worthy.
So while you visit our multicultural island this month, join in the festivities, and rush to greet the apparition, as it is considered a good omen if the dragon passes your way, and fortunate indeed for any local store owner if the trail sweeps past their shop.
Sawatdee pi maï