As most people at the university already know, Chinese New Year is celebrated Jan. 22 to Feb. 6. Also, many people have learned to say the phrase kung hei fat choi to Chinese elders who reward their blessing words by giving them lucky money wrapped in red envelopes. Indeed, living in China up to age 16, I probably raked in an average of $500 per Chinese New Year.
As if lucky money isn't enough, Chinese families fill the New Year's festival with tons of lucky food, lucky firecrackers, lucky poetry and many other lucky activities. As a result, the New Year is characterized by 15 days of excessive luck and frenzy.
Did you know, for example, that the "Lion and Dragon Dance"--a traditional dance involving two people under a Lion-Dragon figure--becomes a Kung Fu, WWE-style death match on Chinese New Year?
A small stage is set up some 20 metres high with many deadly sharp bamboo sticks erected around it. A lettuce plant is tied and hung on a rope from a pole located at the center of the stage. Two teams of dancers--typically representing two powerful families--would proceed into combat attempting to knock the other team into the pit of bamboo doom, all for the sake of winning the lettuce, which is supposed to symbolize fortune.
For many reasons, the above activity is now illegal in most Chinese cities. However, another dangerous festive practice involving Kung Fu, bamboo sticks, great height, and a lucky item is still quite widespread and legal. In this game, numerous bamboo sticks are tied together to create a huge skeletal tower. The tower is then filled with thousands of lucky buns so no holes can be seen. The luckiest of all buns sits atop the tower, and whoever retrieves it will be blessed by Buddha himself.
As one can imagine, when the whistle goes hundreds of men attempt to climb to the top by stepping on top of one another and fighting each other off with Kung Fu. The tower turns into a fusion of torn flesh and bloodied buns as some fall off dead or injured and others fight their way to the very top. It's a dog-eat-dog game, and it definitely epitomizes the competitiveness inherent in Chinese culture.
There are over one billion of us after all, what's a couple of deaths?
However, the average household festivities don't involve real death of any sort. This doesn't mean there is no obsession with luck and fortune, though. For example, all family members are to refrain from using words that sound like "death," the number "four" being one of those taboo words.
Furthermore, on New Year's Day, no one is to wash their hair as it will wash away their luck. Knives, scissors, and other tools used for cutting are also put aside as they "cut off" all fortune. The elders of the household consult the Chinese fung-shui and fortune almanac for the appropriate times to leave the house.
A lot of these customs are slowly disappearing as people become less superstitious, or maybe they finally realized lettuce and buns are too cheap to die for. In any case, over one billion Chinese around the globe are celebrating the Year of the Monkey. Zodiacs say those born in the Year of the Monkey are extremely smart, but love to look down on others. I wonder what that says about Lawrence Bailey, the Gauntlet's Editor-in-Chief.
I, on the other hand, belong to the much lower grade of the Pig. According to Chinese folklore, the gods hosted a race to settle a dispute between 12 calendar animals. The Pig ended the race last because it was fat and lazy. Now, what does that say about me and every classmate I grew up with!?