Koreans, and all of Asia, welcomed the arrival of the Year of the Snake with traditional celebrations with family on Saturday followed by a nationwide party on Sunday – the first official day of the new Lunar New Year, setting off a cacophony of firecrackers blazing into the sky to bring good fortune.
Residents of Daegu braved freezing temperatures to spend time with family and friends, eating vast feasts of traditional Korean dishes while they honored their ancestors and gave thanks for their many blessings. Oh yeah, and got ridiculously drunk.
Firecrackers are believed to scare off evil spirits and entice the god of wealth to people’s doorsteps once New Year’s Day arrives. Lunar New Year tells the story of Nian, a beast that emerges once a year to attack villages and eat children, who’s scared of loud noises and the color red.
The Koreans, like the Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and many Americans, are a superstitious people. The story of Nian as well as the reasons for many of their annual festivals and celebrations stem from this superstition. So too do the zodiac, specifically of the Chinese variety (but really all astrology).
The western zodiac is divided into twelve symbolic representations of the twelve months of the year. The Chinese zodiac is divided into twelve symbolic representations spaced out over twelve years. There are also additional symbols that represent the months and the time of day. Supposedly, your personality changes based upon the position of celestial bodies during the exact moment of your birth.
2013 is the year of the snake, the sixth symbol of the twelve. People born in the year of the snake display such positive character traits as grace, intelligence, and analytic decision-making and negative traits like materialism. In addition to the animal symbols, there exist within the zodiac five elements: water, earth, metal, fire, and wood. This year is water and thus extra characteristics apply. Water snakes are supposedly motivated, insightful, and influential.
The major difference between the two sets of zodiac is the moon and sun. Chinese New Year is also known as Lunar New Year which is based on the cycles of the moon. The western zodiac relates directly to the position of the sun within certain constellations; constellations that the western zodiac symbols are named for.
Some of you may remember back to 2006 when the year of the dog reared its head. There were couples all over Asia who were inducing labor in the waning months of the preceding year to avoid their children being born under the sign of the dog. While astrology is a massive joke to most westerners it is quite serious for many Asian people and cultures. Fortunately, the year of the snake doesn’t carry the same negative connotation that the dog does.
This Lunar New Year, my first (and possibly only) one living in Asia, I had the unique opportunity – similar to my Chuseok experience – to celebrate the holiday in a traditional way with my boss and his family. Two other foreign teachers accepted Kim Dae Young’s invitation to his parent’s house to share in food and fellowship with the family. Mr. Kim has six year old twins – Evan and Iza – who are actually American (having been born there). They’re completely adorable, carrying around a 3 month old, 8 lb, poodle puppy. Evan danced to Gangnam Style and his grandparents were generous, accommodating, and charming (after our boss’ help with the translations).
It was an amazing opportunity that ended with a full belly and began with three foreigners performing the most awkward traditional bow for our boss’ father ever in the history of bows. The Lunar New Year bow is called Sebae: a very deep bow performed on your knees with as much respect as visually possible to the elder members of the family. As a thank you, and small gift, any children who perform this bow for their grandparents, great aunts and great uncles typically receive a red envelope with some money. More bows equals more money, so practicing this bow is in everyone’s best interests.
I wish I had photos of the day and though had my camera with me, felt it would’ve been inappropriate to take any pictures since we were so graciously invited into their home on one of the most important holidays in Korea.
Whether you believe in astrology or not and regardless of which continent you live on, I wish you the best of luck and fortune in 2013, the year of the snake.
Until Next Time…