Here is everything I knew about Chinese New Year before writing this article: there are fireworks, there are a bunch of dudes carrying a dragon puppet, and it’s in February. Apparently, I was wrong about that last bit. This year’s celebration will be Jan. 25. See, much like in Judaism and Islam, the traditional Chinese calendar does not align perfectly with the Gregorian calendar we’re familiar with in the West. The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, using both the movements of the moon and sun to determine month and day. Some years have 12 months, others 13, and a month can have 29 or 30 days. As you can imagine, it gets a little confusing.
The first day of the Chinese year is associated with the Spring Festival. This festival includes around a month’s worth of activities stretching from Little New Year to a five-day Lantern Festival. Activities include feasting, drinking and fireworks, not unlike New Year’s in American cities. This year is also the Year of the Rat, according to the Chinese zodiac. Unlike the Greek zodiac, the Chinese system takes 12 years to cycle through completely, each year devoted to its own sign. As a result, dates surrounding births, marriages and other important life decisions can be seen as lucky or unlucky depending on what sign they take place under, as well as which of the five elements influences that year’s sign.
Do the elements cycle through the years the way the signs do? Yes. Do they always match the sign associated with them? Of course not. That would be too easy. While folks born in 1984 were born in the Year of the Wood Rat, folks born this year will be born in the Year of the Metal Rat. What’s the difference? Wood Rats, like your humble author, are blessed with greater amounts of creativity and sensitivity, while Metal Rats are reliable and stable, able to turn misfortune to their own benefit.
On the 29th of this month, Patton Dining Hall is hosting a Chinese New Year celebration, complete with Asian-inspired cuisine and desserts. I’ve been sworn to secrecy, but I can tell you that a fortune cake may be making an appearance. There will also be giveaways, envelopes containing gift cards, meal tickets and other fun prizes. The whole dining hall will be decorated with dragons, monkeys and even a few rats here and there. It’s Year of the Rat after all. Get ready to be stunned by an assortment of reds, golds and other metallic colors. It’s sure to be a blast.
Chinese food has always been a major part of my life. My family and I always celebrate auspicious occasions (graduations, New Year’s, significant accomplishments) with a night at our local Chinese-inspired eatery. But you don’t just have to celebrate with food. By some sparklers or other (legal) fireworks at your nearest trailer outside a Walmart. Grab some old Godzilla flicks to watch (granted, that’s Japanese so maybe wuxia films instead). Maybe take things literally and build a robotic rodent to scare the neighborhood cats. No matter how you choose to commemorate the Year of the Metal Rat, be sure to have fun and strive for excellence in all things.
Real, Honest-to-Bob Sources:
1984 – Wood Rat Year. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://astrologyk.com/zodiac/chinese/year/1984.
Chinese Calendar. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/focus/calendar.htm.
Chinese New Year Calendar 2020. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://chinesenewyear.net/calendar/#spring-festival.
Coughlin, S. (n.d.). The Elements of The Chinese Zodiac, Explained. Retrieved from https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2018/02/190952/chinese-zodiac-elements-astrology-meaning.