Race to the New Year

by Nigel Tan (H3C), Stallion Correspondent
Artwork by Grant Teng, H4D

Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha summoned all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal’s year would have some of that animal’s personality: those born in the year of the horse are cheerful, skillful with money, perceptive, witty, talented, and good with their hands.

As the legend goes, this New Year marks the year of the horse, a free spirited animal of immense will and spirit. This year, on January 31, we mark the 4712th year in the Chinese lunar calendar, and more particularly, the Chinese Spring Festival. This celebration gathers people of the Chinese heritage to the heart of their culture. It is known to be the longest, most special celebration of the year as it is the brightest and grandest time of them all.

The customs and traditions of the Spring Festival carry on to a long list of rituals. The New Year traditionally consisted of a 15-day long cycle: A time for constant prayer and vigilance as well as laughter and joyous family reunions. Many of the actions done today originate from these rituals and bring us closer to our heritage. Ampao giving, or the giving of red envelopes with money, is a common practice. The money inside these red envelopes is said to symbolize good luck and prosperity. Likewise, the tradition of visiting one’s parents or grandparents to pay respect and celebrate stems from the Chinese heritage as well.

Common to our Xavier celebration is the signature dragon dance. With the horn of a stag, the scales of the fish, and the feet of a tiger, the dragon is said to be a source of long life and countless blessings, and they are meant to scare away evil spirits. From a few to almost a hundred meters long, the dragons are maneuvered by a group of men. Another man holds a staff with a sphere on top called the pearl of wisdom. The dragon chases the pearl to the beat of the drums in the hopes of finding wisdom and knowledge. They are celebrated in public parks or in our case, large quadrangles to gather crowds in the name of the New Year. Usually accompanying the dragon is the lion; two to four lions stand with a pair in each costume. The lions move from door to door finding green lettuce or ampaos hung above. They then eat it and scatter the leaves to symbolize a new beginning.

But the most awaited tradition of the Festival is undoubtedly, the fireworks display. Many come to gaze as the sky gleams in sparks of red, yellow, and gold. The loud noises heard are said to cast off bad spirits. It is said that one who lights a firework will gain luck. Made in several shapes and sizes, fireworks are commonly used on the eve of the New Year.

These customs, although rooted to a distant land, can bring the same meaning to everyone near or far. As we celebrate the Chinese New Year, we come undoubtedly closer to the roots we thought we left behind. For many of us, it is a chance to remember the beauty of our common culture, as well as immerse in its traditions.  As this year is the year of the horse, we must remember to be the best we can be; to pursue every course and travel just as far. It is more than coincidental that Xavier School image is that of a horse, for this new year calls us to be more than who we are.  As we boldly step into a new lunar year, we step into another journey that will be filled with competition and new frontiers. We must always remember to continue to hold on until the last lap in this year of the horse.

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