It’s time to bid farewell to the Dragon, as the Year of the Snake comes slithering in. One of the 12 years of the Chinese Zodiac, which follows a lunar calendar, Snake years are said be a period of great change. It’s a time for shedding your old skin, shaking off what was slowing you down, and lunging towards your goals. An old Chinese proverb states that “a Snake in the house is a good omen because it means your family will not starve.” People born in a Snake year (e.g. 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, or 2001) are considered to be intelligent and thoughtful, with self-control and the ability to strike when opportunities present themselves. To celebrate this wise creature, cities in China (and Chinatowns around the world) are decking the halls in grand style. Shanghai looked especially festive, with colored lanterns adorning nearly every surface of Yu Garden Bazaar. Upscale shopping street Nanjing Xi Lu even got in on the action with a Garfield-themed display at a local mall and a giant illuminated snake made of faux diamonds.
The color red symbolizes luck and prosperity, thus the abundance of red lanterns hanging everywhere. Plum blossoms are also considered auspicious so fake plum branches are a common sight. Shopping is big business during Chinese New Year, as folks rush out to buy decorations for their homes and gifts to give to visiting relatives. A customary gift is the hongbao, a red envelope that gets filled with money. Hongbao are often given to younger family members as well as those you have a business relationship with, such as teachers, hairstylists and housekeepers.
It is common to see decorations on doors around Chinese New Year, often including an image of the incoming zodiac animal along with 福, the Chinese character for happiness. Double happiness (two characters) is a symbol for wealth, so putting up these decorations is supposed to bring wealth to your door. And if you were born in the year of the Snake, like me, you will need to wear red every day to ward off bad luck. People joke about stocking up on red undies, but the traditional accessory is a red bracelet. Hopefully mine will do the trick!