Welcome the Chinese Year of the Ox with perfect flair

Welcome the Chinese Year of the Ox with perfect flair

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

In most years, as Europeans prepare to celebrate the final days of the crazy carnival season, Asian communities across the continent are getting ready for festivities of their own. The Chinese New Year, also referred to as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, is feted with street parties, parades, lion and dragon dances, fireworks and other forms of loud and boisterous merriment.

But these are no ordinary times. Whereas in past years, a trip to Paris, London or Dublin would have allowed you to experience a taste of how China celebrates its biggest holiday of the year, gathering in numbers is still considered much too risky of a business, and public celebrations of this kind remain firmly off the table.

Chinese New Year falls on Feb. 12 in 2021, a date that, just like carnival, fluctuates year upon year and depends on the phases of the moon. Most of the time, it falls on the second new moon following the winter solstice. Chinese New Year dates generally fall between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20 on our Western calendar

Despite the lack of festivities in Europe or China, we can join in on the holiday in spirit. This year we will be welcoming in the Year of the Ox, the second of the 12 animals associated with Chinese astrology. As oxen are associated with positive attributes such as honesty and hard work, hopes for an auspicious year ahead are not ungrounded!

The Chinese calendar recognizes not only the 12 earthly branches as represented by an animal but also five years defined by elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. The year 2021 is the Year of the Metal Ox. Those born in Metal Ox years are believed to be endowed with the attributes of diligence, dependability, loyalty, strength, wisdom and determination. On the flip side, they can be stubborn and intolerant.

An important part of the celebrations is the New Year’s Eve dinner, and what’s served up carries great symbolic value. Dumplings and spring rolls stand for wealth, glutinous rice cakes can bring about a raise or a promotion, sweet rice balls are associated with family reunions and togetherness, noodles are consumed for longevity, and fruits symbolize fullness and wealth. Perhaps most important is fish, which represent luck and prosperity.  Steamed or boiled carp or catfish are always popular choices this time of the year.

Gift-giving is an integral part of the holiday, and here too, tradition plays an important role. Because of their inauspicious nature, some gifts are considered taboo, including handkerchiefs (goodbyes), sharp objects (cutting ties), shoes (evil), clocks (endings), a mirror (fragility), pears (separation) of anything having to do with the number four (death). Items on the good list include alcoholic beverages, tobacco, teas and teapots, fruit baskets (without pears!) and above all, red envelopes with a sum of cash tucked inside. It’s also customary to present children with red toys of the animal whose year is being ushered in.

So how can an American on European soil get into the spirit of celebrations? Ordering Chinese takeaway, rooting for the Chicago Bulls as you clutch the team’s toy mascot and watch a rerun of their Feb. 10 game against the New Orleans Pelicans, and giving your sweetheart a Valentine’s day card in a red envelope a couple of days early might just be enough kick-start a better year. It can’t hurt. Just be sure to steer clear of pears!

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