Chinese New Year celebrations have just ended. We have now officially entered the Year of the Dog. Chomsky, our CSO (Chief Smile Officer) is excited about this coming year, and I am, too.
What images come to mind when you think of Chinese New Year?
Pork dumplings steaming in a stainless steel pot? Brightly costumed dancers performing a lion parade to bring good luck and fortune for excited crowds of children and their parents?
I love the joy embedded in those colorful images.
If you went to Philadelphia’s Chinatown to celebrate the New Year, you saw firecrackers hanging from shops as the lions danced by. But you might not have noticed the head of lettuce hanging from the top of the firecrackers.
In Cantonese, the difference between the word for “raw vegetables” and the word for “to get rich” is just a tone change on a single syllable. In Mandarin , cǎi (採, pluck) also sounds like cài (菜, vegetable) and cái (财, fortune). During Chinese New Year, shopkeepers tie lettuce, a red envelope with money, and sometimes oranges to a long strand of firecrackers. The lions parade by, pluck the lettuce, and throw it to the crowd. It is considered auspicious for anyone who catches it. The dancing lions symbolically exchange cài (菜) for cái (财), or vegetables for good fortune. Even in English, we sometimes hear people refer to money as lettuce, further evidence of its connection to good fortune.
Throughout most of Asia, the new year is celebrated not only as Chinese New Year but as Lunar New Year (tied to the cycle of the moon).
The celebrations are often similar from Northern China to Southern China, from Singapore to Korea, and from Indonesia to Japan. But just as languages differ across these cultures, so too do their celebrations and lion dances.
In China, just as Mandarin and Cantonese are distinct languages, the northern and southern lions represent distinct cultures. The northern lions tend to appear as a two-headed lion. One person will control each head. One head will have a red bow to indicate it’s the male lion.
The southern lions tend to appear as a single-headed lion with one person occupying the head and one person occupying the tail. The southern lion also comes in three different varieties: gold represents liveliness; red represents courage; green represents friendship.
In Korea, the three-day holiday is called Seollal. Families gather together to eat tteokguk, a traditional soup made with sliced rice cakes, beef, vegetables and other ingredients. Children often receive sebaetdon (New Year’s money) as a Seollal gift.
Chomsky and I wish everyone a happy and prosperous Year of the Dog and would love to hear from you!
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