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1.2.11

Oh No, Not Again!

We just got the Christmas decorations stowed and everything cleaned up from the holidays. The hangover is still clearing and what happens?

It's NEW YEAR again!

The preparations run apace for the next holiday season, just two days hence. This one is called Imlek in Indonesian, or Chun Jie in Chinese. It's the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated across Asia and in Chinatowns all over the world.

This year is Year of the (metal) Rabbit, the Hare, or in some places, The Cat. Wikipedia tells us:

The Rabbit ( 兔 ) (also translated as Hare) is the fourth animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. The Year of the Rabbit is associated with the earthly branch symbol 卯.

Rabbit people are considered warm, friendly, creative, and so forth. Pretty much any warm fuzzy word you associate with rabbits, other than food, applies to people born in this sign. All I can think of is grilled with rosemary and butter.

There are a number of rituals associated with Imlek/Chun Jie. Most, if not all, involve invoking good luck and properity. All certainly involve renewal and fresh.

What that means for me is that all the water tanks have to be emptied and scribbed. The front porch has to be cleaned up and organized. And most importantly, the billfold must be pried open and money must flow out.

Everyone must have new clothes to wear on the day (Feb. 3) and the bed must have new sheets and all the left-overs have to be thrown away and fresh provisions loaded in. The biggie is that all the bills have to be paid and the credit cards up-to-date before Thursday. No outstanding debts.

OK so far...

Then there's 'angpao,' where every unmarried child receives a cash gift, which must be enclosed in a red and gold envelope, which (of course) need to be purchased because last year's supply is used up.

The original practice is a lot like Halloween. Kids go from door to door wishing good luck and properity in return for little red envelopes with cash. Seems a damn sight nicer than trick or treat, at any rate.

Her job is to make sure the house is cleaned stem-to-stern. From the rafters to the front threshhold, everything must be spic-and span. The maid has been put on double duty and Momma is supervising the interior renewal.

Just as well. I have enough problems already.

Then there's the special food. There's multi-layer cakes, and some kind of special cake that looks, feels and tastes like a sponge. The most important thing in the feast, which means the family all gathers and eats like, well...pigs. I'm not yet privvy to the full menu. Since I had Thanksgiving, I'm required to sit down and shut up and eat what's put in front of me.

I failed to mention my job of decorating. I had to hang the red and gold lanterns on the porch. Those cost a pretty penny. These aren't the cheapy crap you buy back in the States for a dollar. These are nice and expensive. Key word...expensive.

There's the money tree. It's a small, fake tree not unlike a 'bonzai' tree, but it has silk blossoms and invokes a tree that blooms all over China in the spring.

Did I mention that Imlek is not really called New Year, it's the Spring Festival. In many ways, it's similar to Easter, which is named after the goddess Ester, who was all about fertility and all that mating stuff.

It's no wonder the Indonesians call February the 'month of love,' since there are spring festivals and Valentine Day and all those ancient rites of breeding.

Oh, there's also the haircuts. Everyone has to have a hair cut, no matter how superficial. If you are bald, I suppose you can trim your eyebrows. Just cut something off of your head, preferably that doesn't bleed.

If you are Buddhist, there's an additional step whereby you bundle up some prayer papers and sweep the body from top to bottom, to get rid of bad luck and evil spirits.

All in all, it's a highly complex set of rituals which require significant preparation (and cash outlays). Everything is designed to bring good luck and chase away evil spirits. Even the use of firecrackers is based on the idea that evil spirits are scared of loud noises. Thus the use of bells, as well.

Momma's making all the food by hand. Nothing canned or store-bought. When I cooked up a storm for Thanksgiving, I think I threw down the gauntlet, so now she must out-do the foreigner, since everyone who ate my cooking raved and ranted about how good it was. She will NOT be out-done!

Meantime, I'm trying to put my office back in order, since it was turned upside-down this morning to clean out every nook and cranny. I can't find a damn thing, and I had to re-cable everything just to get online to file this report.

At any rate, I'm off to finish my chores and chow down on some rather tasty looking snacks on the table. I've got my afternoon beer working and I'm feeling rather energetic. Maybe I'll re-arrange the storeroom and change the paper in the cat nest (ugh).

Everything old is new again, as they say.

Happy Year of the Pig! May your pork get eaten, I always say. I'll fill you in on the menu, once I've had time to digest.

Gong Xi Fat Cai!

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