Welcome to the Year of the Horse (Year 4700)

 February 12, 2002 begins the Chinese New Year of the Horse. The Chinese calendar is based on the lunar cycle; therefore, it starts with the new moon. Traditionally, it is a holiday celebrated over 15 days with festivities. I remember growing up in Asia, that in our house we would start, shortly before the new year, with the activity of cleaning out the house and office, in accord with the Chinese saying, “Out with the old in order to invite the new in!” I would be in charge of sweeping the grounds and took pride in participating in the Spring cleaning. The last days of the year were to settle old debts and finish up old business. Since all the stores would close for up to 10 days, everyone prepared food and stocked up ahead of time. New Years’ Eve dinner is strictly a family affair. Every one gathers for a sumptuous feast and seats are left unoccupied for those family members unable to attend. On New Year’s Day, everyone puts on new or freshly washed, bright clothing, symbolizing a fresh start. The morning of the New Year is always filled with the thunderous sound of firecrackers going off everywhere. You have to be careful and dodge them lest you want to ruin your hearing. This is an attempt to “scare away” demons, and the lingering smell of sulfur helps to ward off bad energy (in this case it actually inhibits bacterial activities).  In our home, we always started off the new year with an herbal beverage to cleanse and detoxify our bodies. (Same as our Ancient Treasures Tea) Then, we would attend our shrine and make offerings to our ancestors and spiritual masters with incense, flowers, water and bowls of fruits. Afterwards, we would participate in a renewal ceremony led by our father. (We will be performing the same ceremony at this year’s celebration. Everyone is invited to join.)

Family and friends visit and exchange token gifts, and children receive red envelopes called Hong Bao containing money. This is meant to bring good luck and prosperity to the child’s life. In most peoples’ homes, the front door is framed on both sides with “Spring Couplets”—red posters written with auspicious greetings and good wishes. Tangerines, pomello and kumquats fill large bowls or hang from citrus trees. These  symbolize wealth. Visitors to any home  will be offered round platters filled with nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and other treats.

Food, of course, is one of the most important features of a New Year celebration. I remember growing up, there was a lot of preparation in the kitchen ahead of the New Year’s Day.  Dishes often number 8, 10 or 12. They are lucky numbers and also are only even numbers because they mean double happiness. The most common dishes include whole fish which symbolizes “abundance” or “more than enough,” salads (Sheng Cai in Chinese) which mean to generate wealth, and long noodles which represent longevity. Chicken, duck, beef and vegetables are presented in their whole form—not cut up. In fact, knifes and sharp instruments are put away for this occasion so as to symbolize “wholeness” and “harmony.”

I remember helping my mother make dumplings stuffed with meat, vegetables and mushrooms and little, round mochi in red, white and pink made of sweet rice right up to New Years Eve. The dumplings were made in the same shape as gold and silver boats that were the official money of old China. Depending on how many you ate, it represented how prosperous you would be in the upcoming year. Well, you can imagine the contest we had at the dining table.

Also the mochi symbolize “reunion and cooperation” as well as growth. So children were encouraged to eat lots of them. A common sight at the dining table is a hot pot—Chinese version of the fondue except it is with boiling water. It is so wonderful to gather with the entire family on a cold, winter night and cook right at the table, whatever you want to eat from a large assortment of sliced meat, poultry, seafood, mushrooms, vegetables, tofu, glass noodles (made with mung bean flour) and eggs. The best part was always concocting your own special sauce from a choice of some 10-15 sauces. We always had to have an oyster (Hao in Chinese) which means “the best” or “all is well.”

The holiday carries on for two weeks with celebrations, festivities and visits with  friends and family. Finally, it ends with the lantern festival on the 15th day, which is a full moon. The evening ushers in thousands of lanterns on the street, with children carrying them, and elaborate lanterns in many shapes like the dragon, phoenix and other auspicious animals are on display. This was one of my favorite activities as a child, often standing in front of the many displays, mesmerized by their awesome shapes and sizes. My experience of Chinese New Year celebration was always so full of fun, meaning and inspiration that I want to share it with all my American friends. I hope you will join us in ushering in a New Year and new energy cycle.

A little advice about the year of the water horse:

The energy of this year resembles that of the horse: powerful, energetic and excitable. Yet, when untamed, impulsiveness, recklessness, and destructiveness can result, since elementally, Water dominates the year. However, against the Horse, which is a symbol of Fire, the two opposite energies must try to harmonize; otherwise there will arise much conflict, which is always the danger that lurks beneath. The year will be characterized by busy activities, movement, travel and many distractions that will try to knock you off your balance.

To succeed in this year of the Water Horse, you must stay very focused, single purposed, and resolve all inner and outer conflicts. This brings opportunity for spiritual cultivation to help dissolve all obstacles. The Book of Changes (I-Ching) is an excellent personal advisor to restore harmony and balance   and to gain clarity in times of conflicts  and confusion. Seek peace and cooperation with people around you. Tame the horse within you that wants to go in many different directions; instead, keepa tight rein and

stay on the path. Steadily and productively, direct it to plow the field for the abundant harvest that you are seeking.

Best wishes for a Happy, Healthy and Abundant New Year from all of us at Tao of Wellness!