Happy New Year – Especially to the Goats!
As we speak, hundreds of millions around the world are celebrating the 15 day Chinese spring festival (新年Xin Nian), saying goodbye to the galloping Horse of last year’s lunar calendar, and ushering in the New Year with the gentle stride of the Goat.
Are you a Goat? How many of your friends are Goats? Although the Goat may conjure up an image of something weak or feeble, that is not the case in the Chinese calendar. If you were born in the years of 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, that makes you a goat… or as sheep, as sometimes depicted.
The 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac represent the characteristics of humanity. Chinese folklore has it that once upon a time the Jade Emperor invited all the animals to participate in a race and the first 12 winners would earn the honour of having their name designated as one of the 12 zodiac signs. At the end of the race each animal won its place according to its strength and weakness and its wit and wile. They won in this order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
People born in the year of the goat are reserved and quiet, serene and calm. Therefore they have fewer health problems. Goats are known to be gentle, kind, mild-mannered, shy, stable, sympathetic, amicable, persevering, hardworking and brimming with a strong sense of kind heartedness and justice. They are creative and acquire professional skills easily. They like to be to be in groups rather than the center of attention.
Although they look gentle on the surface, Goats are tough on the inside, always insisting on their own opinions. They have strong inner resilience.
On the other hand, Goats may come across as indecisive, timid, vain, pessimistic, moody, weak-willed just like the animal itself!
There are other stories and Chinese New Year customs that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Chinese folklore has it that hundreds of years ago humanity was terrorized by a fearsome beast called ‘Nian’ who would come down from the mountains to prey on the villagers. One day, a wise old man gathered the villagers together and told them that the beast Nian was afraid of loud noises and the color red. Upon hearing this, everyone became courageous and prepared themselves to frighten and kill the beast during his next appearance. They prepared drums and fire-crackers, painted every house red and dressed themselves up in red – especially the children, as they were the favorite meal for the beast! The beast was defeated. Ever since, the spring festival has been celebrated in places with firecrackers, gongs, and everything red.
The death of the beast Nian signified humanity working together to triumph over the negative forces of the world. Once the dark forces have disappeared, spring arrives and humanity celebrates a new era of peace, happiness and prosperity. The name of the beast, Nian（年）is also the same Chinese character for year, hence the Spring Festival is also known as Guo Nian (without the ‘beast’!) or a ‘new year’.
Before the Chinese New Year, it is customary to spring clean the home and office, to clear away the old and to welcome the new energy of the New Year. Spring cleaning is always a good method to help us reshuffle the energies around us. When the physical place is tidy, our mind and spirit will also feel good and refreshed.
During the Chinese New Year celebrations, it is customary to think of, and speak auspicious words, wear new clothes of auspicious colors such as red and orange, and eat food that bears auspicious sounding names such as mandarin oranges whose name echoes ‘gold’ and ‘luck’ in Chinese. The fruit pomelo sounds like ‘prosperity and status’ in Chinese while fish sounds like ‘wealth’. Sweet food is symbolic of invoking sweet times in the coming year.
Traditional Chinese homes put up ‘Chun Lian’ which is a couplet of auspicious words written on red paper and pasted on doors or walls. These auspicious words are thought to bring good luck and good fortune for the New Year.
As we are aware of the power of thoughts and words, whoever reads these words will naturally think of good wishes and good luck and very soon, such luck will surely manifest!
Though the countries and cultures may differ, yet newness in deeds and thoughts, auspicious words and images, customs and celebrations, are all part of celebrating New Year in each and every society. It reflects the human yearning for fresh experiences, hope and optimism, whilst at the same time observing the values and traditions that hold together the very fabric of society. It reassures us, and at the same time leaves us open to new experiences. And, within a diverse and ever changing world, each one of us has our own spirit, specialities and strength – and just like the goat – hold many hidden treasures.
It’s Time… to choose the positive over the negative and usher in the new year with newness, tidiness, optimism and ‘Guo Nian’ (without the beast)!
By Viannie Chua and Aruna Ladva
© It’s Time…’ by Aruna Ladva, BK Publications London, UK