Chinese New Year – Year of the Snake – Hong Kong fireworks

I was lucky enough to be in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year this year. In China it’s known as the Spring Festival.

In case you were wondering, the inventors of fireworks are still the undisputed champions.

The whole show was about 30 minutes, non-stop explosive action. Here’s ten minutes. I shot this video from Wan Chai, looking out at Tsim Sha Tsui. Amazing show!

Chinese New Year Fireworks – Hong Kong – February 11, 2013

Tsagaan Sar in Mongolia

Date varies. February 21-23, 2012

Mongolian flag

Today Mongolians celebrate Tsagaan Sar, or “White Month.” It roughly mirrors the Chinese Lunar New Year (but don’t say this out loud in Mongolia) and heralds the coming of spring.

The beginning of spring is definitely something to look forward to in Mongolia where temperatures hover well below 0°F in the winter months. A couple weeks ago the temperature was under -30º F.

This year’s Tsagaan Sar is a particularly harrowing one for the residents of Mongolian’s capital Ulaanbaatar (Mongolian for “City of many A’s”)

Last month the police shut down the city’s numerous vodka distilleries after alcohol poisonings:

by Ch. Sumiyabazar

An illegal vodka distilling factory in the Songinokhairhan District of Ulaanbaatar was discovered in a police raid last Sunday. The Uurag Altai company, whose operation license was halted two years ago, was found distilling vodka with the fake label “Morit Khangal,” whose vodka has killed 14 people and hospitalized dozens of others…

‘The small room where this business was conducted was horrible, small and had a terrible stench. A container used for mixing chemicals was unclean. There were no safety or hygienic standards at all,’ said a police officer.

Last week, two additional deaths were reported due to tainted vodka produced by the Asian Wolf company in Baganuur District that killed eleven people on New Year’s Eve. The deaths followed an emergency situation banning sales, distribution and bottling of alcholic products in the metropolitan area.

The Deputy Premier M. Enkbold appealed to the public not to celebrate the upcoming holiday, Tsagaan Sar lunar new year, with vodka.

Let’s hope they heed the warning.

Ulaana,’ who is researching in Mongolia, blogs: “My Tsagaan Sar experiences have been so vodka soaked, it’s hard to imagine a celebration here without it.”

Perhaps vodka-less celebrations wouldn’t be as fun, but probably more memorable.

Saikhan Shinlarai to all!

Posted February 9, 2008

Mongolian Lunar New Year

Tsagaan Sar – an Australian in Mongolia

Tsagaan Sar – a peace corp blog

Mongolians Brave Sub-Zero Winter to Welcome New Year – Feb. 2010

Chinese New Year 2009: Year of the Ox

[published January 26, 2009]


Year of the Ox:

Ox: You are a born leader, and you inspire confidence in those around you. You speak little, but are quite eloquent.  You are steadfast, solid, hard-working, goal-oriented, mentally and physically alert and generally easy-going, but remarkably stubborn. Be careful about being too demanding. You are also methodical and good with your hands. You will make a good surgeon, general or hairdresser.

— ancient Chinese Fortune Cookie

Actually they don’t have Chinese fortune cookies in China. Fortune cookies are an American thing.  Although the Chinese did hide secret messages in Moon Cakes way back in the 14th century, the closest cookie you’ll find to the modern incarnation date from 1800’s Japan.

Makin' fortune cookies, Japan, 1878
Makin' fortune cookies, Japanese etching, 1878

The legend is that fortune cookies were brought to North America by Chinese laborers around the time of the 1849 Gold Rush, but there’s no evidence of this.

They were probably were introduced in the U.S. by a Japanese immigrant in San Francisco in the 1910’s. Another claim is that they were made by a Chinese restaurant owner in L.A. So the question isn’t are they Japanese or Chinese, but are they Northern Californian or Southern Californian?

Fortune cookies became a staple at Chinese restaurants in the U.S. after World War II.

Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese Lunar Calendar is one of the oldest calendars in the world, and probably the oldest known horoscope.

The Rat is the first year of the 12-year cycle. An ancient legend explains the order of the animals. The twelve animals of the zodiac quarreled with each over who would be first, and the gods were asked to decide. A race was held, in which the 12 animals of the zodiac had to cross a river.

Ox was the first across the river. Little did he know Rat had hitched a ride on his back, and Rat darted across the finish line when they reached the other side. For this reason Ox is second.

Perhaps because of Rat’s savvy, “Years of the Rat” always coincide with a U.S. Presidential election. Since 1900, “Year of the Rat” elections have re-elected the sitting President, with the exceptions of 1912 (Wilson), 1960 (Kennedy), and 2008 (Obama).

Today marks the beginning of the year of the Ox.

Barack Obama is one of two “Oxes” to be elected President. [Gerald Ford and Chester Arthur were also “Oxes” but took over for resigning and assassinated Presidents.] The other was Warren G. Harding, who died in office, and whom until recently, many historians considered to be the country’s worst President.

15 Presidents (5 each) have been Rats (including George Washington), Snakes (FDR & JFK),  and Pigs (Jefferson, Jackson, Reagan).

Rats, Snakes, Pigs & other Presidents by Chinese Zodiac

“The ancient Chinese attributed the origin of all life to the balance between heaven and Earth, and the yin and the yang.”

Shelly Wu, Chinese Astrology

Chinese New Year is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world.

Chinese New Year

Feb. 7, 2008
Jan. 26, 2009
Feb. 14, 2010
Feb. 3, 2011
Jan. 23, 2012

The Chinese Calendar is one of the oldest calendars in the world, dating back thousands of years, though it has undergone many changes in that time.

The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar. New Year usually begins on the second new moon following the winter solstice, or the first new moon after lichun.

(Lichun is one of 24 markers that chart the solar year. It falls on or around February 4 in the Gregorian calendar.)

There are 12 months in the Chinese calendar, each lasts 29 to 30 days. The months track the course of the waxing and waning moon. This results in a calendar shorter than the solar year by about 10 days. To keep consistent with the solar year and the changing of the seasons, an intercalary month is inserted every three years. (The Chinese calendar is much, much, much more complicated than that. For a better explanation see:

Calculating the Chinese New Year

or in pdf format:

Countries that celebrate the lunar New Year include:
Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Mauritania, Viet Nam (Tet), Indonesia, Mongolia (Tsagaan Sar) Thailand (not an official holiday), Laos, and Brunei. Also cities across AustraliaCanada, and the United States have large Chinese New Year celebrations, making it one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world.

Year of the Rat

2008 (or 4706 in the Chinese calendar) was the Year of the Rat. Rat is the first symbol of the Chinese Zodiac. There are two stories regarding how Rat came to be first:

Many years ago, according to an Ancient Chinese legend, Buddha decided to choose animals as the signs of 12 year cycle. He summoned all the animals to be present at a meeting next morning and he would secretly select the first 12 animals arriving to be the signs of a year respectively. The rat and cat, who were good friends, agreed to wake each other up. Next morning Rat, who woke up first, broke his promise and left cat sound asleep as he quietly left alone to arrive at the meeting.

Buddha selected the first 12 animals as they arrived to be the signs for the years. They came in this order: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and the pig. By the time the cat arrived everyone was celebrating their good fortune and that is why there is no cat in the zodiac. Needless to say, Cat and Rat became enemies from then on. Chinese Zodiac Symbols

Chinese Zodiac

Another legend is that Rat tricked Ox into carrying across the river on his back, then dashed to the finish before ox had time to get out of the water. Thus Rat is before Ox.

Either way, the important thing to remember is that Rat is tricky, full of promises and good words, but in the end just wants to win the race.

Coincidentally, the Year of the Rat always falls on election year. [Hmmm…
Fox News Hires Karl Rove]

[published Feb. 7, 2008]

2009 was the Year of the Ox. 2010 was the Year of the Tiger [the sexiest of all zodiac symbols –Ed.], 2011 was the Year of the Rabbit, and 2012 is the Year of the Dragon!

Chinese Zodiac