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.
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.
On the Western calendar, the start of the New Year falls on Thursday, February 3, 2011 — The Year of the Rabbit. If you were born in 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, or 2011 – you were born under the sign of the rabbit. Like the rabbit, you are one of cuddliest & sweetest creatures in the Chinese zodiac. Although considered somewhat timid by more dynamic signs, you are wise and cautious, and know better than to jump into any situation without thinking! Tactful, considerate, and popular with a wide circle of friends and family, luck just seems to come to you unbidden.
For the rabbit in 2011, any recent setbacks or obstacles can be overcome, so look forward to a Year in which to really shine, either personally or professionally. Some of the famous people born under the Sign of the Rabbit include Albert Einstein, Frank Sinatra, Pope Benedict XVI, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and David Beckham.
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. We supplied the Tsing Tao Chinese beer, other soft drinks and libations. This year Linda made chicken, sweet and sour meatballs, oriental cole slaw and fruit salad. We also supplied egg rolls and fried won tons.
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!! In order to further the holiday atmosphere, we festooned our home with our usual Chinese decorations purchased in Chinatown for our first party.
Because of the threat of icy roads, and other commitments, our mix was a bit different and smaller this year. Guy Fairstein was a newcomer this year, but because of the weather his wife Marissa extended her stay with her grandchildren in NJ. Guy dressed in red from his shirt to his pajama bottoms to his socks. He definitely heeded our request to dress in red. He brought beef with string beans. Sol Haber made his 6th straight appearance, but his wife Linda was off in the warmer climes of Florida with her ailing mother. Linda was going to bring an Asian salad, and we sure hope she will join us next year with Sol and her salad! John and Eileen Berenyi, who brought fresh pineapples, made their 4th visit along with Neil and Laura Goldstein, who contributed egg rolls. Ron and Diona Koerner, after a one year hiatus returned to our party for the 6th time, brought stir-fried veggies. Diona just returned from a National Geographic cruise to Antarctica.
Abby and Jeff Kurnit, who made their 6th visit in seven years, brought Abby’s homemade and delicious fried rice. In years past they brought our old friend Robin Lyons, who also lives in White Plains, but she was off in Princeton, NJ with her grandchildren. Bob Schulman and Corinne Levy made their 4th visit, and they brought Chinese dumplings. Bob and Corinne are off to Boca Raton for a month, and they hope to avoid the rest of the cold weather up here. Leslie Morioka, a Barnard friend of Linda’s, after missing last years gathering, made her 4th visit and brought scallion pancakes. Jeff Tannenbaum and Rosalie Siegel, Linda’s Barnard apartment mate, joined us for their 4th time and brought sesame noodles, and some much appreciated books on FDR and the Kennedys. My friend Rose Uzzo, not only brought string beans, fresh whole oranges and chicken cutlets but brought one of her friends who is going off to China to become the headmaster of a school not far from Shanghai. This is Rose’s 3rd visit, and it is the 2nd time that she has brought someone to talk about China. Finally we welcomed Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and his wife Sherrie Brown, who made their 6th visit over the past seven years, and they brought grapes for dessert. After six straight Chinese New Year appearances, Warren and Mary Adis could not attend, because they are spending Warren’s sabbatical year in Israel. Hopefully, they will have some great stories and photos for us upon their return this summer.
Finally after four hours of culinary debauchery and stimulating conversation, the party ended, and everyone escaped into the chilly night air. Thanks to the generosity of our neighbor, we had loads of room in our combined driveways, and the parking was not too difficult this year. How much pleasanter would this be if the New Year were celebrated in the summer!!
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, and let’s look forward to a better year than the last!