Monkey Reigns Supreme This Lunar New Year

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Clever, quick-witted, curious yet mischievous… Are these your traits? If so, you may have been born in a Year of the Monkey, according to a folk belief shared among several Asian cultures that embrace the smart animal as an auspicious zodiac sign.

Take it as a compliment to be likened to a monkey this year, and enjoy all the well wishes flooding your way with the advent of the Year of the Monkey on February 8, which is also known as the Asian Lunar New Year. Around the world, celebrations are beginning to unfold in Asian communities and in communities that embrace multiethnic cultures, such as Houston.

Come get a taste of the festivities on Saturday, January 23 at 1 PM - 3:30 PM at the Walter Neighborhood Library, 7660 Clarewood Dr., in southwest Houston. Bring your family and friends and be part of our celebration to mark the Year of the Monkey – whether or not this special creature is your sign.

Expect to be treated to an array of cultural performances from music, dances, and martial art to calligraphy, lantern-making, and other folk art. It’s a great opportunity to explore Asian languages, traditions, and cultural heritage.

Let’s take a closer look at Lunar New Year.

What is Lunar New Year?

Lunar New Year is the beginning of a new year on the lunar calendar. On the lunar calendar, the months are coordinated by the cycles of the moon, as opposed to the Western calendar (or Gregorian calendar), which is based on the length of time it takes the Earth to complete one orbit around the sun.

Lunar New Year, which usually falls in January or February of the Western calendar, is widely celebrated in Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Mongolian, and some other Asian cultures, hence the different monikers, such as Chinese New Year, Vietnamese New Year, Asian Lunar New Year, or simply, Lunar New Year. In Chinese culture, it’s typically called Spring Festival, which highlights the many seasonal rituals, traditions, and celebratory activities.

What do animals have to do with it?

Traditionally, each lunar year is named after an animal or a mystical beast – the zodiac sign – with 12 years completing a cycle. The 12 zodiac animals are, in order: rat, ox (or buffalo), tiger, rabbit (or cat in Vietnamese culture), dragon, snake, horse, goat (or sheep), monkey, rooster, dog, and pig (or boar). In Asian folk beliefs, one who is born in a certain lunar year carries certain characteristics of the zodiac animal of the year.

The Year of the Monkey this year runs from February 8, 2016 through January 27, 2017 on the Gregorian calendar.

How is Lunar New Year celebrated?

The Chinese and some other Asian groups, including Vietnamese and Koreans, share variations of common traditions when it comes to the celebration. Setting off firecrackers on New Year’s Eve, preparing and serving sumptuous meals, paying homage to ancestors, worshipping in temples, enjoying family gatherings, visiting relatives and neighbors, and engaging in cultural activities, such as music, dance, and art, are among the rituals and activities.

In the Chinese community, the celebration runs at least 15 days culminating in Yuan Xiao, also known as the Lantern Festival, on the 15th of the first lunar month, which brings the Spring Festival to a close.

Calligraphic couplet at Walter Neighborhood Library

Festive decorations abound in the Walter Neighborhood Library starting this week. The lobby is the main staging area for the display that includes a Chinese calligraphic couplet on a pair of red paper banners hung vertically on the wall, complete with a red horizontal calligraphic streamer atop the couplet. In Chinese culture, the set of a couplet and a streamer is a ubiquitous Spring Festival decoration that bears profound cultural significance.

What is a couplet?

Couplet, the English translation for Dui Lian in Mandarin Chinese, is a pair of lines of verse or poetry that follows a set of counterpoint rules: The two lines have a one-to-one correspondence in linguistic and stylistic properties such as the metrical length, parts of speech, meaning, and rhyme – between each character (word) of one line and the corresponding character of the other. It is composed in the style of classical Chinese and calligraphically written with brush and ink. Couplets are mostly used to decorate homes and buildings, posted vertically on the two panels of a door or as hanging scrolls on the wall.

What is a spring couplet?

Spring couplet is the translation for Chun Lian in Mandarin Chinese. During Spring Festival, or Lunar New Year, couplets are written on red paper and posted on walls or doors. They are used as decorations for this occasion, which is deemed the auspicious beginning of spring and the coming year and as an expression of wishes for happiness, health, prosperity, and hope.

What purpose does a streamer serve?

Streamer, the English translation for Heng Pea in Chinese, is an accompanying horizontal banner atop a couplet. Usually comprising four characters, a streamer summarizes or expands on the meaning of the associated couplet.

Which leads us to the couplet and streamer on the wall of Walter Neighborhood Library’s lobby.

What is on this set of couplet and streamer?

My father, Yunshi Zheng, is the calligrapher of the couplet and streamer you see when you walk into the lobby. The two lines of Chinese verse I composed for the couplet can be translated in English as follows:
 

The library’s friends arrive to the beckoning fragrance of books.
Neighborhood guests gather to swim in an ocean of wisdom.

Christy Chang, Assistant Group Manager of the Walter Neighborhood Library and HPL Express Southwest, composed a concise four-character verse for the streamer. Translated below, it succinctly describes what the library does for its visitors:
 

A happy bridge to the world.

 

Happy Lunar New Year! Happy Year of the Monkey!

 

Calligrapher Yunshi Zheng works on a couplet for the Asian Lunar New Year celebration slated for January 23 at the Walter Neighborhood Library.


Written by Zen Zheng, guest blogger

 

 

Comments

What a wonderful overview of this special Asian tradition! Thanks for sharing it with us, and compliments to your father for such beautiful work.

Thank you, Janice, for your kind words! My father and I feel previleged to be able to share our heritage and incredibly fortunate to be living in a great community like Houston that embraces and thrives on its rich diversity.

"Festive decorations abound"! What a beautiful literal illustration of the lunar year. I learned a lot! Thanks for sharing, Zen.

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