Once every twelve lunar cycles, more than a billion people around the world take part in a pagan celebration worshipping one of twelve creatures: eleven common and one mythical. This year, the celebration took place three days ago on the 19th, ushering in the year of a creature which has long been debated to be either a ram, goat, or sheep.
Depending on which lunar cycle they were born into, attributes are placed upon people, mirroring that of the animal currently in cycle. Those of the ram/goat/sheep are considered to be gentle, calm, well-liked, and kind hearted. And yet many parents attempt to adjust their birthing cycles to avoid their children being born as meek creatures.
Tradition dictates that at midnight of the new lunar year, hundreds of thousands of papers filled with gunpowder be lit with a timed fuse and explode — even in highly populated urban areas. Lauded for the brilliance of each explosion, these ordinance are used to somehow scare off any bad spirits or bad luck that may try to invade through the year.
Another common tradition is one of great curiosity and concern to this writer. Throughout the years, groups of children and adults are trained in an ancient martial art tradition. On this day, and other days of celebration, they don a fearsome dragon-like costume and attempt to mimic movements while attached to each other. One person plays the head complete with blinking eyes and opening and closing mouth, while others play the body and rear.
Feats of acrobatics are displayed as they jump onto narrow poles set up on a stage and toss each other from plateau to plateau. These ledges are usually very small, a circle no more than a foot in diameter.
After proving their fortitude, they lurk through the crowds of people who had gathered to watch their display. With loud noises, their presence is heralded and crowds part, shoving their crying young forward to offer up hard-earned money to the mouths of their beasts, who snap their mouths closed playfully around the child’s plump arm.
Entire towns are shut down for displays of these types.
Food is sold and each different dish purportedly represents a different aspect of what one is looking for in the new year. Stuffing pork into rice noodle wraps somehow equates to wanting plenty good fortune in the new year. Gau means something about sticking together similar to other sticky foods in other cultures.
Every year we here in Hawaii celebrate Chinese New Year with a passion. One section of town is shut down (Chinatown) and we celebrate locally as a community. In elementary schools, we learn how to say ‘Happy New Year’ in Chinese. In high school Japanese, we made different cards depicting the animal that represented the upcoming year. Through it all, we each know which animal we are and that it represents different parts of our personalities.
Tending to normalize familiar things also has the adverse effect of making things that are unfamiliar more foreign than they need to be. I want to take everything that we have normalized, that I have normalized, and make it all equally unfamiliar.
We never truly realize how odd something is until you take a step back and look at it. Cheri and I were discussing different things that we could do for upcoming posts and since it was Chinese New Year, we had a lengthy conversation about how it was nearly universal that crying children were forced to give money to the dragons. It seemed so odd and foreign amidst something that was so familiar that the humor was apparent.
In this new series, I, Chebk, will be looking at cultural traditions, starting with ones I am familiar with, and take a look from the outside in. Every tradition is a little bit odd, and here we like odd so we’re going to make every tradition as odd as possible.
What are some of your traditions that you’d like to see odd-ified? Let us know in the comments below!