Happy Lunar New Year today! Wishing you joy and prosperity in the Year of the Goat or Sheep.
Um. Which is it? Here is an excerpt from a helpful article by Chris Buckley of the New York Times:
China said goodbye to the Year of the Horse on Wednesday, and on the first day of the new lunar year revelers welcomed the Year of the Sheep.
Or maybe the goat. Or perhaps the ram.
For English speakers, it is a can of worms.
“Few ordinary Chinese are troubled by the sheep-goat distinction,” Xinhua, China’s main state-run news agency, said in its report on the debate. “However, the ambiguity has whipped up discussion in the West.”
The reason is that the word for the eighth animal in the Chinese zodiac’s 12-year cycle of creatures, yang in Mandarin, does not make the distinction found in English between goats and sheep and other members of the Caprinae subfamily.
Without further qualifiers, yang might mean any such hoofed animal that eats grass and bleats. And so Chinese news outlets have butted heads for days on what to call this year in English, recruiting experts to pass judgment.
“The yang possesses a rich and complex meaning in the minds of Chinese people,” said The Beijing Daily, mustering the kind of grandiloquence that journalists can resort to during a slow news patch. “It has permeated every corner of our lives. Some say that in a sense, Chinese culture is not the culture of the dragon or the tiger, but the culture of the yang.”
The prevalent theory goes that because Han Chinese culture developed in regions where herders and goats prevailed, the zodiac talisman must be a goat. The animal is indeed common in traditional New Year art. But sheep have their proponents, and they have become more common in cutesy cartoonish decorations for the celebrations.
Zhao Shu, a folklore expert at the Beijing Institute of Culture and History, said in a telephone interview that the debate was silly. The creature in question arose as a general symbol of plenitude and good fortune, partly because the Chinese character yang shares roots with the one for auspiciousness, he said.
If English speakers are caught up on whether it is a sheep or a goat, that is their problem, Mr. Zhao added.
What to Expect in the Year of the Green Wood Goat
Please note: these insights have been gathered from a number of online sources, many of which are copies of one another, so I apologize that I am unable to offer you the attribution of the original source.
In addition to the twelve year cycle corresponding to each of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac, there are Five Elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water), which are associated with their own “life force” or chi.
This energy blends with the corresponding animal to determine that year’s fortune.
In 2015, the corresponding element is Wood.
Wood by its very nature, is the element associated with all living things, the “spring” or life renewal process. Wood also relates to the color green. The Year of the Wood Sheep (or Goat) is therefore also known as the Year of the Green Sheep (or Goat).
So what does this combination portend?
The Sheep is kind, tender, and sympathetic and is associated with the Western zodiac sign of Cancer. Sheep are creative and elegant. Because of their softer side, they love their families, and, by extension, peace and harmony.
The Year of the Sheep follows last year’s tumultuous Year of the Horse, and heralds a more calm atmosphere. Combined with the evergreen and renewal characteristics of Wood, the Sheep’s creativity can be unleashed.
If last year was the Horse’s year to gallop wildly, this year will be the year for contemplating and appreciating what has already been accomplished; to think about bringing goodness to others; to take a deep breath and calmly look at what’s ahead.
A steady path, generosity, and keeping the peace are at the heart of this year’s wisdom. This is especially true because during the past 20 years both American wars in the Middle East were started in the year of the Sheep: the Kuwait war in 1991 and the war in Iraq in 2003.
Because of the Wood Sheep’s hidden aspects of dryness and fire, 2015 could mark the beginning of another war that will be fought in a desert, such as the Middle East, or in a globally central region, like Europe. This is particularly perilous, as we are seeing the rise of the extremist group IS.
But the Wood Sheep is also a natural peace-maker and a creative negotiator, so let us hope for less destructive alternatives.
Celebrations and Customs
The Lunar New Year marks the ending of Winter and the beginning of Spring, so it is also known as the Spring Festival. Not confined only to China, it is celebrated in many countries across eastern Asia, as well as where there are significant Chinese populations everywhere. This is an estimated total of 1.4 billion people
It is a time for family reunions, for honoring ancestors, and for thanking the Gods for their blessings.
Families make elaborate preparations for this special celebration. Before the new year, all debts should have been paid. And nothing should be loaned on this day, as anyone who does so will be lending all the year.
Hopefully, your house was completely cleaned and food prepared ahead of time. On New Year’s Eve, all brooms, brushes, dusters, dust pans, and other cleaning equipment are put away. Sweeping or dusting should not be done on New Year’s Day, for fear that good fortune will be swept away.
To celebrate, fill your home with flowers and fruit. Oranges and tangerines, in particular, are symbols of abundance, happiness, and good luck.
Children are encouraged to behave impeccably because they are warned that what happens the first day of the year may decide events for the coming year. However, if you cry on New Year’s day, there will be grief all throughout the year. Therefore, children are indulged and are rarely reprimanded, even if they become mischievous.
Shooting off firecrackers on New Year’s Eve is the Chinese way of sending out the old year and welcoming in the new. On the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, every door and window in the house is opened, to allow the old year to go out.
Even if it is very cold, it is a good idea to throw open your doors and windows for a brief time today, to let out the old and welcome in the good fortune of the new year!
Most of all, take extra care to avoid foul language, cursing and bad or unlucky words. Death and dying are never mentioned and ghost stories are totally taboo on this day.
References to the past year are also avoided as everything should be turned toward the New Year and a new beginning.
Most of all, wishing good fortune to all, thinking good thoughts, and welcoming the coming year with joy will set the tone for the days ahead.
May this gift of a new beginning bring you and yours good fortune, health, and happiness!