Oh, hey there Year of the Tiger!
So, 2022 rolls on and we’ve managed to crawl our way through the dark and seemingly infinite trenches of another January. Winter is fading. Spring is springing. There is hope in the air!
“Happy New Spring!” is actually a commonly used greeting by the billions of people who celebrate Lunar New Year – or Chinese New Year as it’s more commonly known — which starts today.
Why is the Lunar New Year such a big deal?
Now, imagine a holiday that’s a blend of Christmas, Hannukah, New Year’s Eve and maybe a little bit of Easter and Thanksgiving thrown in for good measure. Despite it often being regarded as a Chinese holiday, it’s celebrated in several different countries across Asia, and in many different ways. Since its inception over 3,800 years ago, celebrating the Lunar New Year has grown in significance and popularity not just in the Far East, but across the world, and it is estimated that roughly 20% of the world’s population observe it.
The first day of the festival typically begins on the second new moon that appears between January and February every year and depending where you are, celebrations can last anywhere between 2 to 16 days, and preparations for it can often start months in advance.
How Lunar New Year is celebrated can vary between cultures, but you can expect some pretty epic firework displays and parades, often involving lions and dragons as they are thought to ward off bad spirits – as are lanterns. It’s also known by different names across Asia: in China, it is Chūn Jié; in Korea, Seollal; in Vietnam, Tết; in Tibet, Losar… the list goes on. But in all cultures, it is recognised as a time to cast off winter’s shackles, get together with family, honour your ancestors, indulge in copious amounts of food, clean, clear, declutter, and make way for good fortune.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience a Seollal or two first-hand, as my Dad has lived in South Korea for over 20 years, and I myself had a brief stint living and working there as an erstwhile English teacher. One thing that always struck me was the importance of gift-giving, usually in the form of something incredibly practical or healthy, like a basket of fruit, herbal remedies like ginseng, or those massive packets of 20-odd rolls of toilet paper. Rather charmingly, gifting crates of beribboned Spam – the retro, tinned pork stuff that will give some of us flashbacks to some questionable school dinners – are a particularly popular gifting choice in Korea for Lunar New Year. The appeal of Spam dates back to the Korean War when it was introduced by the US army, when food was scarce and meat even scarcer. The allure of it has somehow remained.
But I digress… In Korea and beyond, Lunar New Year is also a time to share a token of gratitude, however big, small, or delightfully random, with your friends, colleagues, neighbours, and loved ones.
Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
Every Lunar New Year is symbolised by an animal in the Chinese Zodiac and is probably how those of us in the Western world would recognise it as being ‘The Year of the…something’. So, today marks the Year of the Tiger. The tiger is traditionally associated with big change, vitality, risk-taking and courage. This year and those born under the sign are meant to embody those qualities. Feels like we could all use a bit of the adventurous tiger spirit after the last couple of years, am I right?
Interestingly, many cultures pay close attention to these astrological attributes when it comes to decision-making for the rest of the Lunar year, both in business as well as personally. The last time we had a Year of the Tiger was in 2010, when the world was in a very different space and, of course, something like Covid was a distant reality. In fact, after the financial crash in 2008 when the world similarly went a bit topsy-turvy, it was predicted that in 2010, global markets would start to restabilise and recover, which happened – albeit very tentatively.
Born under a bad sign?
So, I was born in the Year of the Tiger, the tail end anyway (*Grr!*) I always assumed that when my Chinese zodiac year came around, it would mean I’d be sort of invincible and cloaked in good luck for that year. But alas, it’s quite the opposite! In Chinese folklore, a zodiac sign’s year is probably quite unlucky for the person born under that sign. It’s known as your “Ben Ming Nian” – or the aptly named “Twelve Year Curse.” For any Tigers reading this, we’re meant to defy any bad luck this year by wearing lots of red (so long as it’s gifted) and face South-West where possible! You can thank me later.
With the world still reeling with so much uncertainty – the pandemic, climate change, inequality, poverty, social injustice – it’s perhaps fitting that we all try to harness some of the bold, brave, and positive qualities of the big cat. And much like how a tiger responds to the world, a little courage and passion can pay dividends. Whatever the traditions and celebrations might be, the most important thing this Lunar New Year is to be fearless and make this year the best one yet. After all, I think we deserve it. Happy Lunar New Year everyone!