By Huyen Le, AHRA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Member
The Lunar New Year. One of, if not the most joyous and longest holiday celebration across East Asia. It’s not hard to miss with the skilled lion dancers, loud firecrackers, and little red envelopes shared among family and friends. I always get a sense of pride partaking in this holiday; from being given red envelopes from my elders in return for wishing them good fortune to now continuing the tradition of handing out envelopes to the next generation. However, you don’t need to be of Asian decent to celebrate this annual tradition as you will learn the cause for cheer started with a myth. A myth of hungry demon.
Traditionally the Lunar New Year is a day for “praying to gods”.2 Usually for the health of planting and gathering crops. The people prayed to their ancestors as the gods that would bless them with a bountiful season of harvest. But my favorite is a story told to each generation of a beggar that became a Legend for warding off the demon that feasted on livestock and humans, a sea demon named Nian. The story goes that every New Year’s Eve the demon would surface and attack a village scaring off the people into the mountains until a lone beggar boy fought Nian using the color red and loud firecrackers.3 This is now why the day is celebrated in such a way of red dresses, décor, food, and money envelopes with firecrackers being lit on Lunar New Year’s Eve. Sunday January 22nd will mark the new year for 2023 and will celebrate the zodiac animal, the Rabbit.
You are probably familiar with animal designations but depending on which East Asian country you are from, there are variations to the 12 Zodiac animals of the 12-year rotating calendar. In Vietnam for example, you might find yourself celebrating the year of the Cat in 2023. Whether you are a Rabbit or a Cat, the Zodiac Calendar will typically rotate the animals in the same order of, starting with 2023, Rabbit/Cat, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat/Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig/Boar, Rat, Ox, and Tiger. So, if a child is born after January 22nd (January 1st for the Lunar Calendar), much like the astrological horoscopes of each month, they are designated the zodiac animal of Rabbit. And although a great honor, when he or she turns 12, the year of the Rabbit will appear once again, it is told that your designated year is usually bad luck and those superstitious will wear some form of red on them for the whole year to not encounter any misfortune. But did you know the 12-year cycle is actually a 60-year cycle? No, there aren’t 60 animals but rather every two years, one of these five elements, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, or Water is rotated into the mix. So, while up until the 22nd, you will be born a Water Tiger (2022), in 2023 you will be born a Water Rabbit, and 2024 a Wood Dragon (Figure 1)1.
Whether you are an elder and wise Fire Pig (1947), an energetic Metal Monkey (1980), or an ambitious Wood Rooster (2005), you are a part of diverse holiday celebration with loud drums and firecrackers, to plentiful food, and colorful wardrobe. Don’t forget to wish good health and fortune when gifted a red envelope, because that small crimson object you are holding is a legendary weapon once used by a brave hero.
Figure 1. 1
- R/dataisbeautiful – it’s Chinese New Year Tomorrow, here are the elements and animals between 1924 and 2043 [OC]. reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/comments/lhhogr/its_chinese_new_year_tomorrow_here_are_the/. Published December 31, 2021. Accessed January 3, 2023.
- Xi A. 21 things you didn’t know about Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year. https://chinesenewyear.net/21-things-you-didnt-know-about-chinese-new-year/. Accessed January 3, 2023.
- Xi A, Song S. Myths. Chinese New Year. https://chinesenewyear.net/myths/. Accessed January 3, 2023.
Huyen Le is the Radiology Quality Specialist at John Peter Smith Health Network in Texas, and serves on the AHRA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. He can be reached at email@example.com