By George H. Tsai
Three weeks ago millions of Americans watched the annual spectacle of a crystal ball dropping from the sky over New York City’s Times Square, signifying the start of a new year. While the celebratory euphoria is still very much in the air, here comes another one today. It is the Chinese Lunar New Year, or the Year of the Monkey.
Chinese traditionalists believe that people born in the year of the Monkey are smart, energetic and innovative, so are people born in 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956 and 1944. The monkey returns every 12 years, according to the Chinese zodiac.
The Lunar New Year is equally a big event since a third of the world’s population is celebrating it. Yes, the 1.3 billion Chinese already ushered in the Lunar New Year Jan. 22, kicking off a 15-day celebration. In time they are 13 hours ahead of us.
One of the oldest countries, China has kept this joyous tradition for centuries. Like those in China, Chinese-Americans and new immigrants, totaling about 2.8 million in the United States, mark the beginning of year 4702.
Since last year, the Chinese Lunar New Year has become an official holiday for Asians, mostly Chinese, in the five boroughs. A great number of them are converging on the Flushing area.
And better yet, those who live in urban neighborhoods can enjoy a one-day privilege of suspended alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules so that they can devote themselves to the observance of this festival.
Traditionally, this holiday means family reunion and feast, but to the struggling new immigrants here, it is just a regular workday.
Each year, Asian immigrants, mainly Chinese and Koreans, in Queens highlight the celebration of the Chinese New Year with parades featuring dragon and lion dances in downtown Flushing and other parts of the city. This year is no exception.
A parade held Jan. 17 in Flushing to herald the arrival of the Lunar New Year went off without a hitch. In the past, bickering over politics marred the parades. Chinese from China and those from Taiwan disputed over their political differences. And Chinese and Koreans in Queens differed over the roles they were going to play in the parade.
Falun Gong practitioners (a sect of sorts), however, were barred from the event; organizers were afraid they might use the occasion to promote their cause or protest China’s “persecution” of their fellow practitioners.
Three years ago, several practitioners immolated themselves in Beijing, protesting the government’s suppression of their activities. But some did it just for self-fulfilling ascension to heaven for a better life.
The Lunar New Year parade is a cultural event; there is no room for political or religious zealots. Local Asian communities should block any activism from entering this festive event or other cultural activities.
By the way, how much do you know about the Chinese Lunar New Year?
The Lunar New Year, which also is popularly recognized as Spring Festival, is the longest chronological record in history, dating from around 2600 B.C., when the first Chinese emperor, or Hung Ti, introduced the cycle of the zodiac.
Like the Gregorian calendar, the lunar calendar is a yearly one, with the start of the lunar year based on the cycles of the moon. Because of this cyclical dating, the beginning of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. This year it falls on Jan. 22. A complete cycle takes 60 years and is made up of five cycles of 12 years each.
The Chinese lunar calendar names each of the 12 years after an animal. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from Earth. Only 12 came to bid him goodbye, and as a reward, Buddha named a year after each one in the order they arrived.
The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on personality, saying, “This is the animal that hides in your heart.”
The 12 animals, the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig, also are adopted and used in Japanese and Korean zodiacs. The Vietnamese adopt the 12 animals of the Chinese calendar, with the exception of the fourth animal. The cat replaces the rabbit.
The Chinese adopted the Western calendar since 1911 after the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty, which ruled China for 264 years. People in some Asian countries use both solar dates and the Chinese lunar dates.