Thursday, February 7, 2008

Happy New Year

Wow year 4705 just flew by, didn’t it?
Well welcome to 4706, the Year of The Rat.

I must admit I didn’t know it was this time of year until I noticed the Google logo, but
now we know and knowing is half the battle.

Let's know some more:

Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal's year would have some of that animal's personality. Those born in rat years tend to be leaders, pioneers, and conquerors. They are charming, passionate, charismatic, practical and hardworking
William Shakespeare, and Mozart were all born in the year of the rat.
Fireworks and Family Feasts

At Chinese New Year celebrations people wear red clothes, decorate with poems on red paper, and give children "lucky money" in red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend can drive away bad luck. The fireworks that shower the festivities are rooted in a similar ancient custom. Long ago, people in China lit bamboo stalks, believing that the crackling flames would frighten evil spirits.
The Lantern Festival

In China, the New Year is a time of family reunion. Family members gather at each other's homes for visits and shared meals, most significantly a feast on New Year's Eve. In the United States, however, many early Chinese immigrants arrived without their families, and found a sense of community through neighborhood associations instead. Today, many Chinese-American neighborhood associations host banquets and other New Year events.

Chinese New Year ends with the lantern festival on the fifteenth day of the month. Some of the lanterns may be works of art, painted with birds, animals, flowers, zodiac signs, and scenes from legend and history. People hang glowing lanterns in temples, and carry lanterns to an evening parade under the light of the full moon.

In many areas the highlight of the lantern festival is the dragon dance. The dragon—which might stretch a hundred feet long—is typically made of silk, paper, and bamboo. Traditionally the dragon is held aloft by young men who dance as they guide the colorful beast through the streets. In the United States, where the New Year is celebrated with a shortened schedule, the dragon dance always takes place on a weekend. In addition, many Chinese-American communities have added American parade elements such as marching bands and floats.

Some other attributes about The Year of The Rat

Being the first sign of the Chinese zodiacs, rats are leaders, pioneers and conquerors. They are charming, passionate, charismatic, practical and hardworking. Rat people are endowed with great leadership skills and are the most highly organized, meticulous, and systematic of the twelve signs. Intelligent and cunning at the same time, rats are highly ambitious and strong-willed people who are keen and unapologetic promoters of their own agendas, which often include money and power. They are energetic and versatile and can usually find their way around obstacles, and adapt to various environments easily. A rat's natural charm and sharp demeanor make it an appealing friend for almost anyone, but rats are usually highly exclusive and selective when choosing friends and so often have only a few very close friends whom they trust.

Behind the smiles and charm, rats can be terribly obstinate and controlling, insisting on having things their way no matter what the cost. These people tend to have immense control of their emotions, which they may use as a tool to manipulate and exploit others, both emotionally and mentally. Rats are masters of mind games and can be very dangerous, calculative and downright cruel if the need arises. Quick-tempered and aggressive, they will not think twice about exacting revenge on those that hurt them in any way. Rats need to learn to relax sometimes, as they can be quite obsessed with detail, intolerant and strict, demanding order, obedience, and perfection.

Rats consider others before themselves, at least sometimes, and avoid forcing their ideas onto others. Rats are fair in their dealings and expect the same from others in return, and can be deeply affronted if they feel they have been deceived or that their trust has been abused. Sometimes they set their targets too high, whether in relation to their friends or in their career. But as the years pass, they will become more idealistic and tolerant. If they can develop their sense of self and realize it leaves room for others in their life as well, Rats can find true happiness.

According to tradition, Rats often carry heavy karma and at some point in life may face an identity crisis or some kind of feeling of guilt. Rats are said to often have to work very long and hard for everything they may earn or have in life. However, a Rat born during the day is said to have things a bit easier than those who are born at night. Traditionally, Rats born during the night may face extreme hardships and suffering throughout life. Rats in general should guard themselves against hedonism, as it may lead to self-destruction. Gambling, alcohol and drugs tend to be great temptations to Rat natives.

Traditionally, Rats should avoid Horses, but they can usually find their best friends and love interests in Monkeys, Dragons, and Oxen.

Professions include espionage, psychiatry, psychology, writing, politics, law, engineering, accounting, detective work, acting, and pathology.

(don’t ask me what the following necessarily means because I have no clue at all)
Zodiac Location 1st
Ruling hours 11pm-1am
Direction North
Season and month Winter, December
Chinese Lunar Month For The Rat December 7 to January 5
Gemstone Garnet
Colors Black, red, white
Lucky Number 11
Roughly equivalent western sign Sagittarius[]
Polarity Yang
Element Water
Food Pork, peas, cabbage
Positive Traits Meticulous, intelligent, shrewd, compassionate, charismatic, charming, ambitious, practical, industrious, honest, eloquent, versatile, familial, creative, hard-working, neat, organized, lovers of music, loving.
Negative Traits Controlling, obstinate, resentful, lacks-a-sense-of-humor, manipulative, cruel, vengeful, power-driven, critical, possessive, stingy, bossy, fickle, defensive

and here is some information about New Year’s Cuisine that is really interesting

like Buddha’s Delight
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

* 4 dried Shiitake or Chinese black mushrooms
* 1/2 cup dried lily buds
* 4 dried bean curd sticks
* 8 ounces bamboo shoots
* 6 fresh water chestnuts
* 2 large carrots
* 1 cup shredded Napa cabbage
* 4 ounces snow peas
* 1/4 cup canned gingko nuts
* 1 knuckle of ginger, crushed
* Sauce:
* 4 tablespoons reserved mushroom soaking liquid or vegetable stock
* 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
* 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
* 1 teaspoon sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
* Other:
* Vegetable or peanut oil for stir-frying, as needed
* Salt, Accent or MSG to taste

1. In separate bowls, soak the mushrooms, dried lily buds, and dried bean curd sticks in hot water for 20 to 30 minutes to soften. Squeeze out any excess liquid. Reserve the mushroom soaking liquid, straining it if necessary to remove any grit. Remove the stems and cut the mushroom tops in half if desired.
2. Slice the bamboo shoots. Peel and finely chop the water chestnuts. Peel the carrots, cut in half, and cut lengthwise into thin strips. Shred the Napa cabbage. String the snow peas and cut in half. Drain the gingko nuts. Crush the ginger.
3. Combine the reserved mushroom soaking liquid or vegetarian stock with the Chinese rice wine or sherry, dark soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. Set aside.
4. Heat the wok over medium-high to high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the heated wok.
5. When the oil is hot, add the carrots. Stir-fry for 1 minute, and add the dried mushrooms and lily buds. Stir-fry for 1 minute, and add the water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, snow peas and ginger. Stir in the shredded cabbage and gingko nuts. Add the bean curd sticks.
6. Add the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, turn down the heat and let the vegetables simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and add salt or other seasonings as desired. Serve hot.

Nian Gao


1. 250 g glutinous rice flour, sieved
2. 250 ml water
3. 280 g brown sugar
4. A few bamboo or banana Leaves, run over flame to drive out the moisture (but not burnt)
5. 4-5 10 cm-width round baking tins
6. Some hemp strings
7. Few layers of muslin cloths


1. Mix glutinous rice flour and water into a smooth paste. Add in brown sugar and mix well till sugar is diluted. Leave aside while preparing the containers.
2. Line tins with bamboo or banana leaves (make sure it is cut to a size that has excess on the top and can be folded down to wrap around the edge of the tin). Secure the lining with the hemp strings.
3. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Turn heat to low.
4. Pour the paste mixture into the tins, and steam over the boiling water in the pot on low heat for about 8 hours. Securely warp the lid with muslin cloths so that the water condensation will not drip into the cakes.
5. The New Year Cake will turn into reddish brown colour when cooked. Roll a little ball with a chopstick or fork, coat with some grated coconut, and enjoy it while it's hot. Alternatively, wait till it is cool to get it out of the tins.

Versatility Note:

1. To secure the muslin cloths around the lid, wrap the cloths upward so the corners meet at the top handle. Tie these corners tightly around the handle, and secure them with string if necessary.
2. My aunt used to place a china spoon in the boiling water through the steaming process, so she can tell that the water has not dried up (the spoon in the boiling water knocks against the inside of the pot and make continuous noise). But there was also superstitious saying about the spoon being an agent that drives away evil spirits that may cause the cake a failure.

New Year’s Superstition

Good Luck

  • Opening windows and/or doors is considered to bring in the good luck of the new year.
  • Switching on the lights for the night is considered good luck to 'scare away' ghosts and spirits of misfortune that may compromise the luck and fortune of the new year.
  • Sweets are eaten to ensure the consumer a "sweet" year.
  • It is important to have the house completely clean from top to bottom before New Year's Day for good luck in the coming year. (however, as explained below, cleaning the house after New Year's Day is frowned upon)
  • Some believe that what happens on the first day of the new year reflects the rest of the year to come. Asians will often gamble at the beginning of the year, hoping to get luck and prosperity.
  • Wearing a new pair of slippers that is bought before the new year, because it means to step on the people who gossip about you.
  • The night before the new year, bathe yourself in pomelo leaves and some say that you will be healthy for the rest of the new year.

Bad luck

  • Buying a pair of shoes is considered bad luck amongst some Chinese. The word "shoes" is a homophone for the word for "rough" in Cantonese, or "evil" in Mandarin.
  • Buying a pair of pants is considered bad luck. The word "pants” is a homophone for the word for "bitter" in Cantonese. (Although some perceive it to be positive, as the word 'pants'(fu) in Cantonese is also a homophone for the word for "wealth".)
  • Washing your hair is also considered to be washing away one's own luck (although modern hygienic concerns take precedence over this tradition)
  • Sweeping the floor is usually forbidden on the first day, as it will sweep away the good fortune and luck for the new year.
  • Talking about death is inappropriate for the first few days of Chinese New Year, as it is considered inauspicious as well.
  • Buying books is bad luck because the word for "book" is a homonym to the word "lose".
  • Avoid clothes in black and white, as black is a symbol of bad luck, and white is a traditional funeral colour.

"Congratulations and be prosperous"

p.s. Slate has a really good slide show of The New Year.

(and coincidentally with this Italian/American Mafia bust I’m sure a few rats were or will be involved. dov'e l'onore?)

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