Lucky Chinese Year of the Horse begins Jan. 31

By Long Hwa-shu For Sun-Times Media

January 24, 2014 5:06PM

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Updated: February 26, 2014 6:11AM

The New Year didn’t start out quite right for you? Try the Chinese New Year for a second chance.

It’s the Year of the Horse, which falls on Jan. 31 on the lunar calendar. A lucky year, according to the Chinese. The Year of the Horse kicks out the Year of the Snake — not a good year considering all the turmoil, conflicts and tragedies in the world.

As the Chinese say, “A good horse never turns its head to eat the grass behind.” So, look ahead, not back.

Horse people may be a little untamed, but they are supposed to be popular, cheerful, talented, independent and skillful with their money. Don’t forget that a horse shoe is a sign of good luck for Westerners.

You are a horse if you were born in 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002 and, of course, in 2014 on or after Jan. 31. The Chinese zodiac runs a 12-year cycle with each year symbolized by an animal. Besides the exiting snake and the horse galloping toward you, the others are sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit and dragon.

By the way, horse is pronounced “ma” in Chinese. Among famous horse people are Billy Graham, Nelson Mandela, Angela Merkel, Clint Eastwood, Teddy Roosevelt, Chopin and Rembrandt.

Johnny Lin, chef at Asian Gourmet in Gurnee, and his wife, Anne Chen, manager at the restaurant, both are horse people.

Asked how it feels to be a horse, he said, “We work hard like horses and oxen.”

The Chinese New Year is celebrated not only in China but in most East Asia. With China growing in wealth and influence, anyone doing business with the Chinese probably have learned to say “Xin nian kuai le,” Happy New Year, and “Gong xi fa cai,” May you be prosperous.

In China, the New Year is celebrated as a holiday from three to 15 days, depending where one works. The private sector is more liberal by giving employees a longer holiday. Unlike in the United States where stores offer big sales during a holiday, in China, stores generally are closed for three days during the new year, called the Spring Festival, to allow employees to go home for family reunions. Railroad stations, bus terminals and airports are invariably jammed with travelers carrying gifts for home.

The Chinese New Year celebration revolves around serious eating, often accompanied by drinking. It is not unusual to see 10 to 12 dishes at a family reunion table.

Firecrackers will explode during the holiday, especially at night, to rid evil spirits. As experienced by this writer and his wife, who spent New Year in Nanjing in eastern China last year, firecrackers exploded throughout the night. There was no use complaining because no one wanted to spoil the fun, much less challenge the age-old tradition.

The 15th day of the New Year is the Lantern Festival when kids play with papier mache lanterns, which come in shapes like lotus, rabbit, tiger and dragon. No one in China will pass the day without eating dumplings. It’s an irresistibly delicious tradition.

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