Chinese New Year 4708
February 6, 2010
The Year of the Tiger
It is always cold in early February here in the northeast. Up here on Watch Hill, which looks down on the wide, frozen Hudson River, it can be especially windy and bone chilling in the winter.
In the Gregorian calendar, Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, a date between January 21 and February 20. This means that the holiday usually falls on the second (or in very rare cases third) new moon after the winter solstice. In traditional Chinese Culture, lichun is a solar term marking the start of spring, which occurs about February 4.
This year, 2010, the holiday period begins on the first day of the lunar New Year, February 14th. We wanted to hold our annual party next week, but because of a coming three day holiday, too many people had plans to leave for parts unknown. Bowing to reality, we scheduled our annual Chinese eat-a-thon to Saturday, the 6th.
This year, according to the Chinese Zodiac, is the Year of the Golden Tiger. The Tiger is the 3rd sign in the cycle of 12 animals that makes up their Zodiac. The Tiger is the sign of courage that legend tells us wards off three household disasters; fire, thieves and ghosts. On this day one should be happy, to have a smiling face and refrain from quarreling and being critical. The Tiger, being a beautiful animal, is feared and revered equally. It symbolizes, in many Asian cultures, courage, power, passion and regal strength. In the celestial sense of Feng Shui, it is one of four animals which include the Green Dragon, the Red Phoenix, the Black Tortoise and the White Tiger. The Tiger is the female counterpart to the male dragon. The ancient Chinese sages saw in the markings of the Tigers forehead the Chinese character “Wang” or “King.” In the days of Imperial China, the dragon was the insignia of the Emperor, and the Tiger was the military emblem of the emperor’s greatest, most fearless, and victorious commanders. The Tiger also represents earth, while the Dragon represents heaven. The Tiger is a natural born leader, who is courageous, passionate, daring, active, and self-assured. The Tiger can be optimistic, passionate and independent, along with this independence often comes rebellion and unpredictability.
Alongside the 12-year cycle of the animal zodiac, there is a 10-year cycle of heavenly stems. Each of the ten heavenly stems is associated with one of the five elements of Chinese astrology, namely: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. The elements are rotated every two years while a yin and yang association alternates every year. The elements are thus distinguished: Yang Wood, Yin Wood, Yang Fire, Yin Fire, etc. These produce a combined cycle that repeats every 60 years. For example, the year of the Yang Fire Rat occurred in 1936 and in 1996, 60 years apart.
The Chinese character for “Yin Earth” represents a field or a garden. It is associated with the quality of moderate, peaceful, intellectual, charming and charitable kind of person. People born in a day of “Yin Earth” are often moderate and harmonious and slim.
People born in the Year of the Tiger are straight forward and uninhibited in nature. They will never give up no matter how frustrated they become. Quite often they love competition, cannot pass up a challenge, appear cool and are unpredictable. Some people born in the Year of the Tiger are gentle and full of sympathy. Among some of the well known personages born in the Year of the Tiger are; Queen Elizabeth II, Mary Queen of Scots, Marilyn Monroe, Tom Cruise, Agatha Christie, Diana Riggs, Jodi Foster, Norma Shearer, Charles De Gaulle, Dwight Eisenhower, Tony Bennett, Tennessee Williams, Alec Guiness, Rudolph Nureyev, Marco Polo, Beethoven, Isadora Duncan, Renoir, Karl Marx, Hugh Hefner, Chuck Berry, and Mel Brooks.
Meanwhile, many confuse their Chinese birth-year with their Gregorian birth-year. As the Chinese New Year starts in late January to mid-February, the Chinese year dates from January 1 until that day in the new Gregorian year remain unchanged from the previous Gregorian year. For example, the 1989 year of the snake began on February 6, 1989. The year 1990 is considered by some people to be the year of the horse. However, the 1989 year of the snake officially ended on January 26, 1990. This means that anyone born from January 1 to January 25, 1990, was actually born in the year of the snake rather than the year of the horse. Many online Chinese Sign calculators do not account for the non-alignment of the two calendars, using Gregorian-calendar years rather than official Chinese New Year dates.
Traditionally the color red is worn on and during the Chinese New Year to scare away evil spirits and bad fortunes. Red is a bright and happy festive color, which is sure to help bring the wearer a sunny bright future. It is considered lucky to hear a songbird or a swallow or a red-colored bird. One should not greet a person in their bedroom, and therefore even the sick should be dressed and be seated in the living room. The use of knives and scissors should be avoided because their use may cut off good fortune. No borrowing or lending should be done on the New Year and the use of off-colored language is strictly forbidden. Good luck is encouraged, by opening doors, windows, switching on lights at night to scare away ghosts and spirits, and candy is eaten to insure a “sweet year.” One also will avoid bad luck by not buying shoes, pants or having a haircut. It is said that on the first day of the New Year one should not sweep the floors or buy any books!
According to custom, the entire house should be cleaned before New Year’s Day. On the eve of the New Year’s all cleaning equipment should be stored away. Shooting off firecrackers on New Year’s Eve is the Chinese way of sending out the old year and bringing on the new. One should open all their doors in windows to allow the old year to escape forever. If one cries on New Year, they could be cursed to cry throughout the year.
Despite all of these forebodings, we did celebrate another edition of our annual Chinese New Year’s fandango. On a cold clear night here in the lower Hudson River valley, all our guests arrived safely and without much of a problem. Like last year, the threat of snow, was on the lips of every meteorological forecaster, up and down, the east coast.
It was clear all week, but a storm started to brew in the south and predictions for a massive storm to hit Maryland, Washington and points north was all over the media. But all the experts were hedging their bets, and most thought NYC would get, at the most, between; 3-6” of snow, and whoever lived above the Cross Westchester Express, Route 287, would probably be spared. As the fates would eventually determine, we lucked out and whole Metropolitan area was hit by nary a flake. On Saturday, we were well prepared for the coming feast. All of our guests were given culinary assignments and came through well. Meanwhile the party was called for 7:30 PM and by 8:15 almost everybody had made their arrival. We served the appetizers downstairs, and the main courses and desserts upstairs.
Amongst our repeat guests were Linda’s old Barnard classmate Abby Kurnit, who is semi- retired from teaching in the chemistry department at Pelham High School and her husband Jeff, who is a professor City University of New York. They brought homemade fried rice. They both are Life Members of the Village Light Opera Guild, and over the years we, along with the Adises, have seen many of their fine productions.
My old buddy Mount Vernon buddy Warren Adis, who is a professor at Iona College, and his wife Mary brought a Chinese pasta dish. They have made every Chinese New Year’s party that we have held. We have traveled often to the New York museums with the Adises. Warren and I met in the third grade (1952) in Mrs. Krohn’s class at the William Wilson/Traphagen School in Mount Vernon and have had many adventures that included being at the NCAA hockey finals in Syracuse in 1967 when our two schools, Cornell and Boston University, collided for the title. Warren met Mary, who was an English gal, born in India, while he was traveling in Europe after his service in Vietnam.
Sol and Linda Haber play tennis with Linda and me in our weekend indoor games. Sol, who played basketball at Yeshiva of Flatbush, long after Warren and I were through shooting the roundballs in Mount Vernon, hits an excellent serve and a potent forehand. Sol is a dentist who specializes in oral surgery and Linda, who is by training a CPA is in the real estate business in Westchester County. Linda prepared an Asian inspired-salad. This year, their neighbors, Herb and Marian Schoen, were not skiing and were able to make their first experience since 2006. They brought brownies.
Back again were John Berenyi and his wife Eileen, who hail from Connecticut. John has been a frequent guest on my radio show, and we are working on a sustainability and resiliency initiative for the City of Mount Vernon. The Berenyis brought olives and grapes for dessert. As it turned out, Rosalie Siegel did graduate work with John’s wife, and Linda Haber knew the Berenyis when they all lived in Manhattan. Neil Goldstein, the former head of the American Jewish Congress, and now the Executive Vice-President of the Israel Energy Project has been a guest on my radio show, The Advocates, http://advocates-wvox.com , returned with his wife Laura and they brought a delicious bottle of plum wine. As it turned out, Abby Kurnit knows Neil’s wife, because they taught at Pelham together for many years.
Rosalie Siegel, who is also a Mount Vernon gal, and a former flat mate of Linda’s from Barnard, works for the Port Authority, came with her long-time companion Jeff Tannenbaum, a financial writer. They brought assorted egg rolls and three books regarding FDR, the WPA and Frances Perkins. Another old friend Paul Feiner, who is the Supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh, stopped by for his fifth visit over the past six years,
My friend Rosemary Uzzo, a top-notch educator from Yonkers, who spent 35 incredible years working for the Yonkers’ Board of Education, and is getting her PhD, was able to return after her first visit last year. Rose brought scallion pancakes. Another return couple were Allegra and Larry Dengler from Dobbs Ferry. Allegra is the Co-chairperson of the Greenburgh Office of Energy Conservation, and her husband Larry, a lawyer is a trustee of their village. They also brought brownies.
Two regular attendees, who returned after a year’s hiatus, were Wally and Ronnie Kopelowitz. Wally is an ophthalmologist whom I met many years ago on the tennis courts of County Tennis. They live in Great Neck, and Ronnie is a lawyer and a NYC judge who sits in Brooklyn. Wally is a long-time tennis rival, who punishes his opponents with his wicked baseline slices. They brought kosher chicken and egg plant dishes. They love to travel, and they have finally finished their long re-modeling of their home.
Corinne Levy, one of Linda’s tennis friends, and her partner, psychiatrist Bob Schulman came up from Irvington and added dumplings and tofu to our appetizers. Robin Lyons, another former Mount Vernon resident, who lives in White Plains, was able to escape the ravages of 18” of snow, at her daughter’s house in Princeton, NJ, brought lo mein. Robin, returning after a year absence, is the widow of the late George Lyons, a very dear friend. George was one of the leading experts on baseball in America, and had a remarkable collection of baseball memorabilia that featured unique and rare game-worn baseball jerseys. He also was the eldest of the four sons of Broadway columnist Leonard Lyons and is the brother of Jeffrey Lyons, the movie critic. Debbie Rubin, a regular guest, whom Linda knows from Barnard College alumnae events, again joined us after a year’s absence and brought chicken.
Michael and Marci Shapiro also joined us after a year’s absence. Michael is a lawyer with Carter, Ledyard & Milburn in NYC, which will be eternally famous for giving FDR his first job as a lawyer. It was there in 1907, that FDR predicted to his fellow juniors that he would be elected to the New York Assembly, then be appointed assistant secretary of the navy, and be elected governor of New York. His legal friends, who were quite accustomed to his breezy manner and thoughts on various topics, were very impressed with his frankness. FDR eventually left Carter, Ledyard in 1914, while he was serving as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. His next job was with Fidelity & Deposit Company of Maryland, and there he hired Marguerite “Missy” LeHand. Marci teaches in the Edgemont schools, and their son Ben, who is a talented teenager, plays a great game of tennis. The Shapiros brought bok choy.
Among the few newcomers this year were my old political buddy and friend from White Plains, whose kids went to high school with our children, Kevin Moran and his companion Val, who was a year behind me at MVHS brought string beans.
Last, but not least, were first time guests, Art and Susan Zuckerman. Art and Susan do a great radio show on WVOX devoted to travel, and they combine their show activities by being expert tour guides of NYC. They specialize in talking about the hidden stories of NY and they brought a DVR about their visit to the Discovery Channel. It was all about the hidden tunnels of Chinatown which were used during the Tong crime wars of the early part of the 20th Century. The Zuckermans also brought authentic shrimp and beef with black bean sauce from Chinatown. I have had the pleasure of being a guest on their radio show, and Art will be a guest of The Advocates this Wednesday, the 10th, which can be heard at 12 noon on 1460 AM radio or live-streaming on one’s computer at www.wvox.com.
We supplied the Tsing Tao Chinese beer, other soft drinks and libations, plus egg rolls, dumplings and lo mein.. Linda made sweet and sour meat balls, along with an excellent minced beef dish with hoisin sauce and pickled ginger in lettuce wraps. She also made a minced chicken wrap and an Asian salad. For dessert we had oranges, grapes, fortune cookies, and brownies.
In keeping with the red theme of the holiday, we had red and white plastic plates, cups and plastic utensils made setting up and clean up very easy!! We had our usual Chinese decorations and candles lit at the front door to lead our guests to our home.
Finally after four hours of culinary debauchery the party ended and everyone escaped into the chilly, but clear air. By the way, “Happy New Year” is conventionally thought to mean in Cantonese, Gung hei fat choi. But that really means, “Congratulations and be prosperous.” In reality the Cantonese saying for “Happy New Year” is Sun nin fai lok. So either way, thanks for coming, we had a great time so let’s look forward to a better year than the last!