By Alex Berger
They can join their Queens Asian neighbors who will celebrate the beginning of the lunar new year shortly. So, lest I forget, let me here and now wish everyone, a “Shin Nian Kwai Le” (Happy New Year).
Yes, dear readers, get ready for the Year of the Serpent, or Snake, celebration, a two-week event which coils in on Jan. 24.
The Chinese calendar has 12 astrological signs. Legend has it that before leaving the planet, Lord Buddha invited all the animals in the world to meet with him, but only 12 species 12 showed up. Lord Buddha honored the dutiful dozen by naming a year after each of them, according to the order in which they arrived at his going-away party: the Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Sheep, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog, and the Boar.
Interestingly, the Chinese, Koreans, and Tibetans who count their years differently from one another, all consider this the Year of the Snake. And, all three consider this lunar holiday to be their most important one. It is a time for family gatherings, adult children to visit their parents, big dinners, and bigger parties. People half a world away from their homelands will get a chance to see, and to show their children, traditional dancing, costumes and songs.
The Chinese tradition of setting off fireworks during this holiday originated many years ago in the Han Dynasty, which began in 202 BC. The noise and smoke are said to scare off evil spirits. But here in New York City, for safety reasons, Mayor Giuliani has banned firecrackers. The celebrants now will use simulated, flame-resistant “firecrackers” – containers with red confetti that burst when set off with an electronic device and are noisy enough to scare away the evil spirits. Did you know that the Chinese lunar calendar is 2,637 years older than ours?
Each year in the 12-year cycle is named for a particular animal and, when completed, the cycle begins anew. The Chinese say that the animal ruling the year in which you were born will influence your life.
They will be celebrating the New Year of 4699 although no one actually knows for certain when their calendar actually began, but there's no doubt it's almost five millenia old. For Koreans, the new year is 4334, which dates back to the first Korean king, and for the Tibetans, the new year is 2128, dating back to the first Tibetan king. Our Western calendar, based on the birth of Jesus a mere two millenia ago, is a pup by comparison.
On this holiday, Chinese families will be eating traditional foods, which include fish (for luck); dumplings (for change), rice cakes (for progress), and soup balls (for unity). In addition to whole steamed chickens (including the feet), they will eat fried pastries, cakes of brown sugar, which has a reddish hue (red and yellow are considered lucky colors), and pork dishes (a mainstay of Chinese cuisine). Nearly every family will also serve a dish of dried oysters and seaweed, a delicacy nobody really likes but everyone will eat anyway (sort of like frogs' legs).
Now a word to the non lunar-versed readers: the Year of The Snake will be a hectic and mixed year. The characteristics of Snake People born this year are varied. They love good books, food, music, and plays. They will have good luck with money if they parlay it prudently. They are artistic, intense, intuitive, and wise, but can be stingy. And they have a tendency towards physical beauty. They are also vain, high tempered, and will experience a host of positive and negative situations. It is up to them to control their direction.
SP's should keep a tight rein on their stock portfolios this year and particularly, make no unnecessary cash outlays for unsound investments. Fortunately, they will have 01' Man Opportunity knocking at their door more than once this year, so they must seize the moments. When it comes to love, SP's should not take anything for granted. (Famous New York SP's include Howard Stern and Brooke Shields).
During this time of year, I usually run to my favorite Chinese restaruant, The Evergreen in Whitestone – mind you, not for their scrumptious Chinese dishes such as Beef and Tomato, Shrimp Chow Fun, and Sweet and Sour Chicken, but for their fortune cookies. Many people go to fortune tellers, seers or psychiatrists for advice. Others go to psychics, crystal-ball gazers, and tea leaf or palm tree readers to tell their fortune. Me? I am strictly a fortune-cookie man. I love reading their prophesizing pearls of wisdom.
I quote: “Always forgive thy enemies, especially if they are bigger than you.” “Enjoy good health before Congress repeals it” “Love doesn't make the world go 'round, but it sure makes the trip worthwhile” “Never make love when you have something better to do” (but what is better?) “The trouble with the rat race is, even if you win, you are still. a rat.”
Enjoy the Year of the Snake with your loved ones and friends