It’s hard to believe just 10 days ago, I was in China’s northern Lanzhou city, enjoying a last dash to the grocery store to pick up a few items as gifts for friends in the States. The crowds were already starting for the Chinese New Year buy-out of clothes, food and candies for the big January 26th celebration when the Rat Year would leave us and the Ox Year would take its place.
As with the approach of any special day, either in China or the States, entire aisles had been cleared of daily necessity items and replaced with holiday merchandise.
It was hard to miss the sea of red ornaments, placed at the entranceway of the store to catch eager buyers’ attention. Chinese New Year danglies, stacks of red envelopes for money gifts to young people, prosperity couplet door hangings, Chinese happiness character posters and rounded lanterns lined an entire wall.
Sales on winter coats, long underwear, socks, suit jackets and padded pants crowded the clothing sections.
The food floor was overrun with specialty meats (flattened duck, juicy sausages, dried beef strips), waves upon waves of assorted candy counters and fresh fruits up from the southern regions.
Grocery carts were loaded as entire families shopped together: young couples held hands, proud grandparents balanced bundled-up babies in their arms, mothers and fathers pulled their excited children through the masses. There is nothing like shopping in China before the New Year holidays.
Now we have the day almost upon us here in the States but the upbeat, festive atmosphere is not to be found in my small town area. The streets are empty, the store aisles back to normal after Christmas and the shoppers average in number.
Nothing special going on here.
Today, the day before the Ox Year, my mother and I attended church and then returned home to a spaghetti dinner my father had prepared for us. Despite his healthy difficulties these past 4 months, he is still able to pull off a dinner or two when he’s feeling well. Today was just one such day.
In the quiet of our house, my mother and I have ushered in the new year by replacing last year’s rat with this year’s ox. How do we do this?
Well, every year, my mother waits for me to send a new Chinese decoration to hang up in the house for China’s Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). As is the custom in China, decorations stay up the entire year and are never taken down so as not to take away any good luck they bring. Only when the next Chinese New Year arrives is it safe to replace the old with the new. My mother lets hang her Chinese dangly through all four seasons before it’s time to retire our old year and bring in our new one.
Today, I retired the Year of the Rat by removing our rat decoration and my mother brought in the Year of the Ox by hanging up the xx, a rather ostentatious, wildly colorful bull’s head.
My greatest prayer is that the ox will bring about a better year than the rat, which has just seen more sorrows and troubled times than any animal should for 12 months.
For all my Chinese readers, I wish you much happiness for your special day on Monday. May your family gatherings be joyful, your spirits be high and the days ahead full of promise and hope.
From small town Marshall, Illinois, here’s sending you a Ping An (Peace) for your day!