glittery horse

Yes it’s the Chinese Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival and it is celebrated across this region with bells on starting on January 31st for fifteen days. The date changes each year depending on when the second moon after the winter solstice occurs. There is something very poetic sounding about that although I’m sure any astro-physicists reading (unlikely) are putting their heads in their hands in quiet despair.

Welcome to the Year of the Horse.

Some of the decorations outside the flash department stores are all a bit bling but we decided to go into Chinatown and see the celebrations up close and personal. Aside from the crowds (oh my word!) it was a huge dose of tradition slamming into modern culture. It does take your breath away. The horses in Chinatown are cleverly wired in the air and although they look striking in the daylight…

daylight horses

…as the sun went down they are lit so cleverly and sway in the breeze and they look like they are galloping down the street.

at night

Then it was less about the poetry and more about the celebration in Chinatown and it was good fun.

chinese lanterns

everything red

new year barrels

I was also told that I was born in the unluckiest year of the century so far. When a friend of mine – also born in the same year – married, his future wife’s family had to make more offerings at the temple to try and counterbalance the bad luck his birth year would bring. So there you go. The jury is out whether that explains a lot or proves it is nonsense.

There’s a lot of red in these photos and the condo here is covered with red banners and lanterns and when the kids asked, it was time to find out. Here, as always, is my version of the myth.

This time it is written for Jacob, because he likes stories.

Once upon a time there was a fishing village in China that was surrounded on one side by a fierce sea and on the other, by a huge mountain. Every year, on the second moon of the winter solstice a terrifying monster, Nian, would come to the village and destroy their crops, take their hard earned fish and steal their children. Every year, without exception he would come and he was too strong to fight; too terrifying to even look at. He had the head of a lion and the body of a bull and he was so big that even the strongest of the villagers cowered in fear. On the eve of Spring, the villager would hurriedly pack their belongings and try to find a safe place to hide. They were never sure if he would come from the mountains or appear suddenly from the sea.

One year, as people hurriedly packed and panicked, an old monk called Hongjun Laozu came to the village. But no one had the time to offer him food to eat or a place to rest. “We must hurry!” they said as they pushed past him. Eventually an old woman took pity on the monk and stopped her packing and helped the monk to rest. As he sat there he chuckled to himself and said to the old woman “Why are they running from old Nian?” They should be celebrating the New Year”. And so he told the old woman how to fight Nian. The old woman sat next to the monk and they both enjoyed their meal with all the villagers shaking their heads in disbelief.

That night, the villagers watched Nian come down the mountain and approach the house of the old woman. Suddenly, red lanterns lighted up the house until it looked like it was on fire and the loud crack of firecrackers could be heard across the sea. Nian reared up in fear. As the lanterns burnt the sky red Nian fled to the mountains. As the villagers came back, the monk told them that Nian feared three things – the colour red, fire and noise. Every year since, to keep Nian away, each family lights red lanterns and sets off firecrackers.

There is so much more to say about the Spring Festival – about the ritual spring cleaning that is embraced across much of this part of Asia, about the traditions for each of the fifteen days and about how in another version of the myth it was actually the fact that Honjun Laozu was wearing red underpants – that he flashed at Nian – that scared him away. But it is late and I still have to do my own spring cleaning before all the mops and brooms must be put aside on New Year’s Day. You must not sweep away your good luck as the New Year dawns.

(Three days left, I’d better get a wriggle on).