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A SHEEP DRAGON’S CLOTHING
February welcomes in the Chinese Year of the Goat.

February welcomes in the Chinese Year of the Goat.

I used to think that I was a goat. But then I saw a professional Chinese fortune teller. He reassured me that I wasn’t. I was a horse. No I’m not mad, though some of my friends would doubt that. I’m talking about the Chinese zodiac, which is comprised of 12 animals, and Chinese New Year. It’s a lively time here with the explosion of firecrackers, fireworks, the ringing of the gongs at the Chinese temples, and dragons dancing in the street. Each year a different animal is honoured.

          

Chinese New Year is a big event in Thailand as many of the population are of Chinese descent. And Samui was settled in part by Hainanese immigrants. Chinese New Year follows the lunar calendar and is thus celebrated on a different day every year. This year, 2015, the festival is celebrated on 19th February, and is the year of the goat in the Chinese zodiac. The goat is the eighth animal of the zodiac, and in Chinese the number eight is considered to be very lucky. Hence many people are hoping for a prosperous New Year.

          

Talking of money, little red envelopes containing small gifts of money are given to children at this auspicious time by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and even sometimes neighbours.

Workers in companies may also receive a bonus at this time, again given in the customary red envelope. It is impolite to open the envelope at the time of receiving, and it should be kept unopened until later.

The New Year is a time of reunion in China and families will get together, much like our western Christmas, and enjoy the celebrations. Decorating their house, making offerings to their ancestors at the temple and shopping for the festivities will all play a part.

          

As with any festival around the world, food is extremely important. Many Chinese people, including those of Chinese descent on Samui, make offerings either at their family shrine or outside their place of business. The offerings are thought to bond this world to the world of the ancestors. The food eaten at this time also takes on significance and symbolism. You won’t find any dish with white tofu during the festivities, since white is the colour of death and considered very unlucky. Instead there are lots of foods said to bring wealth and prosperity: oranges, jujube dates, and kumquats and to inspire family harmony, lychees, mixed vegetables and green vegetables. Shrimp signifies happiness and good fortune and tangerines also symbolise luck. Fish is an extremely important food at this time of year, expressing people’s hope of prosperity in the New Year. Sugared fruits are thought to sweeten the following year.

          

There are some taboos however for those adhering to the strict Chinese standards. Words such as ‘death’, ‘broken’ and ‘sickness’ are not to be uttered. And the taking of medicine on this day is prohibited or the rest of the year will be one of sickness.

          

The New Year tradition itself is over 4,000 years old, originating as a time of family reunions and colourful festivities to welcome the spring. Legend had it that the ‘year’ or as the Chinese called it the ‘nian’ was a huge monster that devoured humans and animals. And the New Year was known as ‘guonian’ the word describing the passing of the year, an opportunity for the monster to come out. In time people found that the ‘nian’ was scared of the colour red and firecrackers. As a result the custom of using red in clothing and decorations and the setting off of firecrackers began and remains to this day.

          

On Samui, you’ll be treated to some spectacular celebrations. Nathon, on the west coast of the island, has the biggest festival during this time. Events start off in the morning at the Chinese Temple, with offerings and then a procession through the streets of men dressed as dragons, while others are in a trance with large spears through their cheeks. They bless the businesses, and you’ll see them painting mandalas on the walls and taking offerings in red envelopes from the shop owners. 

February welcomes in the Chinese Year of the Goat

It is a noisy and smoky affair but it’s a great time and the streets are packed. Look out for the red envelopes tied up high, and if you wait you’ll see a young man or boy hoisted up on a pole to grab them. The festivities in Nathon continue into the evening with dragon dances and people walking across hot coals in front of the temple. You’ll find young and old, racing across the coals and if you’re brave enough you’ll be invited to do the same.

          

Maenam also has a Chinese Temple and a large Chinese community. In the lead-up to the New Year the locals adorn their homes and shops with red Chinese lanterns and cut outs of Chinese characters for luck and prosperity for the year – exactly as they do in China. The main street in Maenam will be lit up by red Chinese lanterns strung high across the road. The celebrations here tend to be a little more laid back during the day time than in Nathon, but come evening time things start to liven up. In the afternoon you can also see the local businesses making their offerings to the dragon that weaves its way through the street, going from shop to shop to the beat of drums, and there’ll be the constant backdrop of explosions from the firecrackers. The night time dance of the dragon is usually one not to miss – with acrobatic performances from young men, followed by children hoisted high above the street on impossibly long poles, which will leave your heart racing. They are a professional team of dancers from the mainland, who make their way around the island during this time, from Ban Hua Thanon, Nathon and Maenam and Fisherman’s village. After the performance you can buy a piece f the dragon’s mane – thought to bring good luck for the coming year.

          

So if you are in Samui at this time take a trip to one of the Chinese temples and revel in the festivities, the noise of the firecrackers and the colour and spectacle of the dragon dancers. Head on out and join in the fun to welcome the year of the goat.

          

 Natalie Hughes


 


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