The Lunar New Year begins on February 12th. On that day we leave the Year of the Rat and get on new footing in the Year of the Ox. Maybe you’d like to plan something special to celebrate this auspicious transition, why not join the festivities from the comfort of your home?
For example, everyone is welcome to register for a free event hosted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and Renwick Gallery. Due to the pandemic, Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian museums are not physically open at this time, but that isn’t stopping this year’s dances, performances, and artistic demonstrations in a salute to the Lunar New Year. They’ll all be streamed online, in coordination with the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in D.C. and the Chinese Cultural Institute. After registering at the above-linked page, you just need to tune in on Saturday, February 13th at 10:00 a.m. to enjoy the event.
Dumplings, Rice Cakes, and Sweet Rice Balls for Prosperity
Most of us could use prosperity in the year ahead. According to the tour company China Highlights, dumplings are a traditional New Year’s Eve delight because of their association with New Year’s prosperity. Dumplings look like Chinese silver ingots, which are oval and turned up at each end. So, eating dumplings, according to legends, helps open the door when a lucrative opportunity knocks.
Ask your local restaurant about Chinese New Year cakes, too. Made of sticky rice and dates, chestnuts, and lotus, they are a must-have treat for the Lunar New Year’s Eve. The Chinese word for rice cakes is niangao. In the Chinese language, that word sounds very much like the phrase that means doing better every year, so plates of New Year’s rice cakes are offered to help bring prosperity in business, and improved circumstances in life.
Celebrations Continue Through February’s Lantern Festival
The New Year’s celebrations are just the beginning of the Spring Festival. Then there’s the Lantern Festival on February 26th. And there’s more sweet rice — but this time it has to be round.
Sweet, sticky rice balls (tangyuan; pronounced tung-yuwen) are the highlight of celebratory foods enjoyed during the Lantern Festival. Inside the delightfully gooey balls, you’ll find rich, black sesame paste or soft, crushed peanut filling. The symbolism of sweet rice balls connects with the joy of getting together for holiday reunions. That excitement is something most of us can relate to, as we’re surely craving reunions in 2021. For now, we still need to order take-out, but these treats will surely help surround us with the spirit of connectedness!
Remembering the Oxen in Their Special Year
And let’s not forget the animals invoked in this lunar calendar year: the oxen. True, the animals on the lunar zodiac are symbolic, and one (the dragon) isn’t even an actual being. Still, no time like the present to explore the history of the oxen. The ancient oxen, ancestors of today’s cattle, were called aurochs (the word is both singular and plural, so it’s one aurochs or a herd of aurochs). The ancestral aurochs had black fur, often moved together, and ranked among the Earth’s largest mammals. They inhabited North Africa, Europe, and parts of Asia, where they were first domesticated.
When the aurochs lived in freedom, for thousands of years their movements through forested land helped shape vast grasslands and meadows. Unfortunately, they were gone by the early 1600s. Poachers in Poland likely killed the last of the living aurochs. So, the celebration of the Year of the Ox is bittersweet, for nowhere on Earth do the oxen know the freedom their ancestors experienced.
Wishing You the Best in the Year Ahead
If you were born in the Year of the Ox (1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997), it’s said that you’re trustworthy, inspiring, calm and patient, quiet and resolute, with unwavering confidence in yourself. Perhaps the year ahead of us will be something like the Ox.
But whatever 2021 might bring, and whether you are an Ox or not, may good fortune and creative connections grace your path. Cheers to all in the Year of the Ox!
Photo credit: Luuk Timmermans, via Unsplash