Monday, January 23, 2012

Year of the Dragon

Chinese Lunar New Year is the most important holiday of the year in China, Taiwan, and several other Asian countries. What does this holiday represent? According to the 12 animal zodiac chart, 2012 is the Year of the Dragon. Dragon years are known for bringing most fortune. This is a big deal! So much so that soon-to-be parents plan their birth schedules around it. In 2000, the last Dragon Year, 202,000 more babies were born in Taiwan than during the previous year according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. It is a very popular year to have babies, get married, or start a business.

Dragons are considered to have characteristics of being the strongest, the smartest, and the luckiest. The "long" of oolong tea literally means dragon. Oolong is one of the great teas that is finally receiving long-deserved attention. Oolong consumption is on the rise and we are predicting that 2012 will be the year of oolong. But moving beyond the oolong, ultimately to have even greater oolong, I am proposing instead for the year of the Yi Xing teapot.

Chinese New Year is a time to give gifts. One of the gifts that is most commonly given in Taiwan is tea. Tea is a great gift for many reasons. One is that it is an experiential gift, meaning that it is something that one gets to enjoy with the senses. Chinese New Year is a time when families get together. It's a time when people migrate to their hometowns. Huge cities such as Taipei empty as hordes of people make their way to their hometown. While living in Taiwan, I found that this time of year often made me more homesick than Western holidays. Some years were great and I was incorporated into the fold and made to feel like family. One of the places this happened was at the Kung Fu school. The Master made sure to invite all of his foreign students to the evening's feast. Typically, there's a large feast on the evening before the Chinese New Year on the last day of the year. In Shandong, it's traditional to eat dumplings at midnight--this is believed to bring great fortune in the coming year.

The first day of the new year is called Day One. On this day, you will hear everyone walking around saying, "Congratulations, congratulations." To understand this, we have to look at the origin of the holiday. In ancient times, it was believed that a beast comes out on New Year's Eve to eat people. When people emerged from their homes uneaten, on the first day, congratulations are given for victory and rebirth. Legend has it that the beast is afraid of red and today red is still an important color during this holiday. Red banners are plastered on doorways in triplets on either side and atop the doorway. Black Chinese characters in bold brush strokes contrast the bright red paper. My friends told me about how they experienced the New Year holiday when they were younger: "As a child, the new red clothes made us feel so good. We would eat a well prepared meal meaning an array of quality, an abundance, and prepared with care and insight And it was one of the few days of the year when you would wear new clothes. It was so great for us because it was one of the few times in a year when we felt like we had everything we could need." Today, however, many people exist in a perpetual state of abundance. My friends observe a difference in their children during the holiday, "This is day when you have everything, are given more, and somehow it's not enough."

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