Get out your orange trees, your red and gold envelopes, and your lion masks … it’s time to usher in the year of the wood horse! Chinese New Year, the Spring Festival, or, more broadly, Lunar New Year (after all, we don’t exactly call ours “American New Year”) is the 15-day celebration that marks the beginning of the year on the lunisolar calendar. Usually falling somewhere between the end of January and the beginning of February on the Western calendar, the hoopla surrounding the festival often constitutes the biggest bash of the year in participating cultures. Perhaps the most recognizable symbol of Lunar New Year is the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, wherein each year is represented by an animal and assumes that animal’s characteristics. This year the horse collides with the element of wood, following last year’s water snake. Celebrations vary throughout the East-Asian countries that recognize the holiday, but include feasting, of course, as well as gifts of money to children in lucky red envelopes and the “lion dance” performed by troupes in the iconic lion mask and costume. A single lion is operated by two dancers who, I suspect, both cross their fingers and pray to the wood horse to be assigned the front half of the creature’s body.
Fortunately for us, we have our own local troupe—the Cal Poly Lion Dance Team. They’ll be appearing at a number of auspicious occasions around the county, including the Chinese New Year celebration at Volumes of Pleasure Bookshoppe in Los Osos on Feb. 8 at 3 p.m., a celebration of Tet or Vietnamese New Year at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in San Luis Obispo on Feb. 9 at 4:30 p.m., and on the evening of Feb. 15 at the Central Coast Chinese Association’s annual banquet. Also on Feb. 15 the Cal Poly Mustang Marching Band will travel north to perform in the godmother of all stateside Lunar New Year bashes, the Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco. So, if you find yourself in the City by the Bay welcoming in the Horse, don’t forget to get out there and support our local boys and girls in the band. But even though the end of this Lunar New Year coincides with Valentine’s Day, it’s probably still a bad idea to tell your date that she looks horsey.