恭喜发财 Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái! Wishing you prosperity and happiness! Ahead of the release of our latest New Adventure, The Great Zodiac Race, writer Kim Richards gives us a fascinating explanation of the Lunar New Year, and how it is celebrated widely beyond the Chinese traditions we are often more familiar with.
It’s near time to celebrate the first full moon of the year, and for many of those with East and Southeast Asian heritage, this is a time of feasting, family gatherings, sharing joy and reflecting on the year ahead. Growing up in a mixed Chinese-Malaysian and British household, Lunar New Year was the biggest celebration of the year for my family. The house would be scrubbed from top to bottom, then decked out in red and gold decorations. My family would gather on the night before LNY for our Reunion Feast, which began with Yee Sang (‘Prosperity Toss Salad’); a huge dish of different ingredients symbolising various blessings that we all mixed together while cheering ‘Lo hei! Happy New Year!’ This would be followed by a hearty communal steamboat and exchanging oranges (symbolic of gold and luck) and ‘ang paos’ – red packets of crisp new bank notes.
Thanks to the global pandemic, our celebrations have been non-existent for the last two years, so writing ‘The Great Zodiac Race’ has been a real joy for me, allowing me to share the fun of how the order of the Zodiac calendar was decided. The Zodiac calendar and Lunar New Year are intrinsically linked – with the former laying down the theme for how we celebrate the latter.
But wait! Why did I say Lunar New Year, and not Chinese New Year? Lunar New Year is not just a Chinese festival! It is celebrated all over East and Southeast Asia; Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines…each community having both similar and different customs to celebrate ringing in the new year. While I personally celebrate with Chinese-Malaysian traditions, it is more acceptable to refer to the wider holiday as Lunar New Year, so as not to alienate people from different ethnicities. With this in mind, I’ve written this adventure based on what I am experienced with; the Chinese version of the Great Zodiac Race.
There are several localised variations of the original folk tale, mostly revolving around what animals are native to different countries. For instance, in Malaysia, Rabbit is replaced with Mousedeer, while the Nepalese Zodiac exchanges Dragon for Eagle, and Korea swaps Sheep with Goat and Pig with Boar.
The biggest variation comes with Cat. You see, Cat was invited to take part in the race that would define the Zodiac calendar; but you’ll notice that no domestic kitties grace the 12 year cycle. This is because, in some stories, Rat never passed on the race invitation, or didn’t wake Cat in time to go to the race. In other stories, Cat participated, but Rat pushed her into the river near the end of the race, hence why Cat hates both water and Rat. However, Cat does appear in the Vietnamese Zodiac, replacing Rabbit.
2021 was the Year of the Ox; a time for perseverance and endurance. 2022 is the Year of the Tiger, who is associated with strength, confidence and exorcising evil (in further myth, Tiger eats evil spirits who try to invade the Jade Emperor’s court). Here’s hoping that Tiger’s qualities follow us in the year ahead; we deserve it after the last two years! If you wish to share Tiger related well wishes, here’s a rather sweet Mandarin expression: ‘虎啸祥瑞Hǔ xiào xiáng ruì!’ – ‘Tiger roars and calls for an auspicious New Year!’
I hope you enjoy the race – if you want to feel extra festive while running, consider wearing red clothing and reward yourself with an orange afterwards! I wish you a wonderful and prosperous year ahead. Gōng xǐ fā cái!