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The woman who helped usher the interior design industry into full flower in the United States was prolific in putting out ideas that will help freshen up today's interior design business. Look at our latest Designer Monthly, Interior Design: Look Forward by Looking Back to Dorothy Draper.

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2013 Chinese New Year

(Water Snake)

CHINESE NEW YEAR for 2013 is the Year of the Black Water Snake and lands on the new moon of February 10 in the U.S. The Chinese New Year is a time to welcome longevity, wealth and prosperity and to eliminate negative chi from the past. It is said a snake is silent and still and may lie coiled and motionless for a very long time. But when it is ready, it strikes.

The Year of the Snake is a time of powerful undercurrents and far reaching efforts. At this time, dramatic history-altering events can happen. The last time the year of the snake occurred, the attack on the NY World Trade Center and Pentagon happened. It is likely in 2013 that powerful forces will emerge and some who are repressed will rise up against authority.

Landmark agreements can also occur, like when Nelson Mandela met President Botha, which led to the end of white rule in South Africa. Snake years also favor innovation. It was the year when Apple introduced the Ipod.

The snake year is when DNA was discovered. There will be considerable emphasis on humanitarian and environmental issues. The arts and culture will thrive and major events and exhibitions will make various art forms more accessible.

For the individual, the snake year offers a lot of potential. It favors learning and personal growth and taking up new skills. It is a year of action and many of us will be happy with the actions we take. The Chinese have the saying, “If you have foresight you are blessed, but if you have insight, you are a thousand times blessed.”

Legend of Chinese New Year: The phrase “Kung Hei Fat Choi,” which roughly translates as “blessings for wealth,” is a common greeting for this day in particular. No one is quite sure exactly when or where the Chinese New Year festival originated. Legend has it that once upon a time, there was a monster called Nian that attacked Chinese villages every spring, eating anything that came its way – people, animals, plants and the odd building. One spring, villagers hung red paper on their doors and threw bamboo on a fire when Nian arrived. The monster was so startled by the bright colors and loud crackling noise of the burning bamboo that it turned and fled. Today the word “nian” is the Chinese word for year.

Since that day, Chinese people hang red paper signs and lanterns outside their homes and enjoy making loud noises on New Year’s Eve. Firecrackers replaced bamboo after gunpowder was invented and the main idea today is the louder and bigger, the better.

In the days leading up to the Festival, every household gets a thorough cleanse since sweeping on New Year’s Day itself might sweep away the year’s good fortune. Breaking dishes or using sharp objects is also seen as potentially unlucky. Bad luck, or huigi has a tendency to build up in the corners. Old huigi can really bring down the party. Plus, only when the house is spic and span can the ancestors and deities be properly honored. Three days before the big celebration, families bust out the brooms and dustpans and give their homes a thorough cleaning.

The holiday is a time for family celebration and nearly every university student or migrant worker heads home. It’ll seem like the whole country is going somewhere at this time, whether on their way home or taking advantage of the long holiday to do some traveling.

Many families probably are still working on their final house decoration. They need to finish the decoration on doors and windows. Chinese calligraphers write the New Year's poetry on the red color paper and people paste them on the top and both of sides of main-entry door. They said this custom comes from the story of man-eater Nian animal, which was afraid of red.

At the beginning, people drew the god at the door images on the red-color peach tree wood hanging on the door to scare the devil spirit away. Later, Chinese use red color paper instead. An even simpler way to drive the evil away is to write a single character on the diamond-shape red paper and paste it on the doors, windows, containers, posts, and money safety boxes. The popular characters are Spring, Luck, Money, Happiness, Wealth, Safety or Prosperity. Some are posted upside down, because the sound of upside-down in Chinese is similar to the word of come. So the upside-down MONEY poster means money comes. The upside-down LUCK poster means the luck comes.

On New Year’s Eve, once the family has been gathered, food becomes a central consideration. Large numbers of delicacies are prepared and fish is often eaten as the Chinese word for fish is a homophone for surplus.

Throughout the first five days of the celebration, the Chinese consume tons of long noodles in hopes that they’ll translate into long life. There are many dishes on the dinner table. Every dish has an auspicious meaning behind it. It's connected to longevity, reunion, perfection, good luck, health, diligence, satisfaction or promotion based on the homophone of the dish's name. Family members are supposed to have some from every dish so they eat and chat for a longer time, giving them the chance to share love and care. They need leftovers for Chinese New Year Day - nobody cooks at home.

Some dishes are even eaten simply because they have a lucky sounding name. For instance, fat choi, made of hair-like plants and pitch black, is an absolute must-eat for most Chinese families, and sounds like the phrase “get richer” in the local lingo. Often fat choi is served alongside ho shi - dehydrated oysters - whose Chinese name bears a strong resemblance to the sounds for “good events.”

The last course in a traditional New Year’s feast is always fish. The word for fish in Chinese (yu) sounds exactly like “left” as in, you better hope there’s something left in your bank account after two weeks of partying. Placed on the table to serve as a reminder to go easy on those credit cards, the fish is granted a post-mortem reprieve to encourage the family to spend wisely.

On the final day of the festivities, everyone goes nuts on sweet rice cakes, or “go.” Shaped like the full moon (and eaten on the full moon) these glutinous cakes are shared amongst family and friends as a sign of unity. In this case the word “go” sounds similar to the word for “high.” For the Chinese, this translates as doing all things in life at the highest level; careers, education, etc.

Children particularly enjoy the custom of receiving red envelopes. The envelopes contain gifts of money and are distributed by family elders to young unmarried relatives. Some families lay out gold ingots on their table for prosperity.

(Gold ingots)The events that occur on New Year’s Day may have an impact on the rest of the year so be careful with your words, your deeds, what you eat and whom you greet. Enjoy this auspicious time with family and friends!


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  • Reader Comments (3)

    Nice article, but I think the word “nian” is supposed to be "nean" which means new year. My friend celebrates Chinese new year and made note of this to me once. :)

    February 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCindy
    Loved the article. The Chinese culture always manages to leave me awestruck. Love the ingots! =)
    February 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSylvia
    Hi franca,

    I was wondering if you know who is the original artist behind the first image?


    May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRik

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