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!
Fiona at Life on Nanchang Lu says
Good luck in the Year of the Snake, and a very Happy New Year from abroad! Lovely to see all the Shanghai decorations!
Thanks Fiona! I hope you and your family have settled in nicely and were able to celebrate the lunar new year in your new (old?) home!
James @ Fly, Icarus, Fly says
I’ll be experiencing my first Tet in HCMC. So far, pros: explosion of colors on the streets, lots of produce and other food items that I’ve never seen before. Cons: Everyone wants a wee bit more for everything, from the barber for a haircut, the parking guys, and the lady who sells me iced coffee… But having 10 days off from work is EPIC!
You get 10 full days off from work?! That is EPIC! The Chinese just get three days, as far as I know. But they can work the Saturday and Sunday before so they can take the full week off.
Yes, yes – “same-same” as they say here in Vietnam. Red and gold everywhere, and here in Dalat especially – flowers, flowers, everywhere (i.e. all the flowers in the parks and parades in Ho Chi Minh City come from here in Dalat where the climate is cool).
Last year I was in HCMC for Tet, and the parks and parades were quite festive. But as most Vietnamese get a rare holiday from work for Tet, they head to their childhood homes in the countryside, so HCMC was uncharacteristically quiet. I mean… you could actually WALK ACROSS THE STREET w/o risking life and limb!
But of course, here in Dalat – many of the folks from HCMC come here to visit family, so now the streets here are uncharacteristically crowded with motorbikes (and Dalat has not a SINGLE traffic light!) Tonight there’ll be fireworks around the lake at midnight as we welcome the Year of the Snake. And I’ve been passing out little gold and red envelopes of “Lucky Money” (crisp, brand-spankin’ new dong notes) to all my friends.
See you in… just 6 days in Luang Prabang, Lao!
So sorry to have missed you in Luang Prabang! Hopefully our paths will cross again…
Love, love, love all the colors. The snakes on your door are just
too cute. Thanks for the picture of the beautiful flower arrangement.
I hopefully will be coming home with one or two of the lanterns.