The 26th of January marks the beginning of a new year on the Chinese calendar. On this day, by Chinese around the world, the year of the Rat will be farewelled and the year of the Ox welcomed in. Cambodia doesn't officially celebrate Chinese New Year -there are a staggering 25 public holidays as it is- but the large Chinese population do, closing shops and businesses and ushering the New Year in with good luck Lion Dances and traditional celebrations. The Cambodian New Year or Chaul Chnam Thmey (meaning literally Enter the New Year) is a three day event celebrated on the 13th to the 15th of April in keeping with the lunar calendar.
Here is the karaoke version of a Chinese New Year song sung in Khmer I found on YouTube. The Cambodians LOVE their karaoke so much there is a dedicated television channel- not so much fun when you can't find the remote in the gym.
Here is a much catchier New Year song (of course it is- it's a Disney song!) from Hongkong Disney which we visited the year before last.
The Chinese calendar is also a lunar calendar. New Year begins on the first day of the first lunar month and runs for 15 days of prescribed activities, festivities and much eating of traditional New Year foods chosen to invite continued wealth, health and prosperity. Red packets, Hong Bao in Mandarin, with even amounts, except four (odd numbers are for funerals and 'four' sounds like 'death'), of money inside are exchanged. A lot of Chinese superstition uses homophones (words that sound alike) eight, for example, is considered very lucky as it sounds like wealth. On New Years Eve it is traditional for the most senior member of the family to host a huge family get together, the 'reunion dinner',where fish is often served because the word surpluses sounds the same as the word fish.
There are 12 animal signs corresponding to the 12 years in the Chinese Zodiac calendar. The Rat, that presided over much of 2008, is the first and is associated with aggression, wealth, charm, and order, but also with death, war, the occult, pestilence, and atrocities and although he is the bringer of wealth he is also the spender of it all. Sounds appropriate, maybe we all should have taken more notice of that during the last Chinese New Year hand over and the recent events may not have seemed so shocking then!
Thankfully the Rat is followed by the Ox, which is a sign of prosperity through fortitude and hard work- hopefully that will stand us in good stead in the year ahead.
The different personalities of Rat and the Ox have created a bit of history it seems something we would not have been surprised about considering the followiing story. I heard this story during Chinese New Year last year when we were still living in Singapore.
The story goes that thousands of years ago, the Jade Emperor held a race to determine the order of the 12 animals that would appear on the Chinese lunar calendar.The race began and the Ox was leading the pack but the resourceful Rat leapt onto the oxes back and just before the finish line jumped off launching himself over the finish line first. The Ox, although strong enough to maintain first place through the entire race with a sneaky Rat on his back (read into that what you will) therefore came in second, followed by the Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. That is, they say, how the 12 zodiac signs came about.
Many Chinese New Year traditions revolve around hopes and wishes for wealth and prosperity. Many will hope more specifically this year, I imagine, that the Ox will usher in a better economic outlook after all a 'bull market' is associated with increasing investor confidence which should in turn stimulate investors to once again participate in the global market (stock or otherwise). A ‘bull market’ is also sometimes described as a ‘bull run’ as it takes off, so here for your musical enjoyment is an incredible classical guitar piece entitled appropriately ‘Bull Run’ I found on YouTube.
'Bull Run' played by Kelly Valleau