Category Archives: Chinese New Year

Year of the Metal Ox

The new moon this month brings Lunar New Year, and in the Chinese tradition this new year is the Year of the Metal Ox, and in the Tibetan tradition, where the new year celebration is called Losar, it is the Year of the Iron Ox. Both traditions begin with a thorough cleaning of the house before the celebration begins, to wash away all bad things from the previous year, and now that it’s begun, there is feasting with family and with friends and there are dumplings, round like the year and the sun that shines above.

Here is how the ox came to be second of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac: When the Jade Emperor announced that the order of the zodiac animals would be determined by when they each arrived at his palace, it was pretty much a given that Ox would arrive first thanks to his great strength and the stride of his mighty steps. However, Rat, who was one of the smaller animals, asked Ox for a ride, to which Ox obliged, for Ox was strong and also kind. Rat enjoyed the ride, but Rat was a bit of a trickster, and just as Ox was about to enter the palace, Rat jumped off Ox and entered the palace first. This is why Rat is the first of the animals of the Chinese zodiac, and why Ox is second, ahead of the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig. But this year is Ox’s year, and the element associated with Ox this year is metal.

And though the year is Ox’s, the new year celebration kicks off now and runs for sixteen days, through Lantern Festival, when the full moon returns and the celebration concludes.

We have two things to offer you through the Jaffe Center for Book Arts to mark the new year celebration. First, a virtual workshop with the amazing paper engineer Colette Fu, called “Year of the Metal Ox Pop-Up Cards.” It’s on Thursday, February 18, from 6 to 8 PM Eastern, via Zoom. In the workshop, Colette will teach you how to make three different pop-up cards for the new year; in addition to making the cards with you, she’ll explain the mechanics behind each so you can do some paper engineering of your own. Tuition for the workshop is self-determined, which means you decide how much your tuition is (JCBA suggests $65 for this workshop). And when I say Colette is an amazing paper engineer, I mean it: she created the world’s largest pop-up book in 2017; it measures 21 feet x 14 feet, and you can walk through it. I tried to bring it to the Jaffe Center for Book Arts last year, but we discovered there were no building entrances large enough for it.

The other new year event is the Jaffe Center’s virtual Real Mail Fridays Year of the Metal Ox Worldwide Letter Writing Social the very next day, on Friday, February 19, from 2 to 5 PM Eastern, also via Zoom, and it’s free. What to expect? We’ll be celebrating the Year of the Metal Ox through An Dun (music to calm the emotions) and Sheng Hua (music to invigorate the spirit). We play the music, people gather over Zoom, and it’s three hours of calm working time to do whatever you wish: write letters, knit, bind books, do homework, paint or draw. What you do is up to you. We just provide you with atmosphere and the company of like-minded folks, and once or twice an hour we break for a little chat.

We’ve been holding virtual Real Mail Fridays since December, and they are such heartwarming gatherings. I just glow brighter and brighter with the gifts of human kindness with each social we hold. And it’s just awfully nice to connect.

Please join us for one or both events. For the workshop, you need to register ahead of time. Click here for the details. For the Real Mail Fridays social, you just have to show up. Click here for the Zoom link. Wear red for good luck! And Happy New Year. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

 

Click the pictures to make them larger: The top photo is of the new Year of the Ox postage stamp from the US Postal Service; the crowns are foil printed! The middle one is the slide for Colette Fu’s workshop, and the bottom one is the slide for the Real Mail Fridays social.

 

Long Noodles, Long Life

It’s Chinese Lunar New Year. The festival began with last Saturday’s new moon. And since it was a Saturday, we gathered the whole family and went to our friend Joy Sumonthee’s Asian Fusion restaurant in West Palm Beach. Mom loves it there, and to attain that honor is no easy feat for any restaurant. She loves it so much, that she and my sister have been known to go to Joy Noodles with trays of homemade manicotti or homemade pizza for Joy and her staff. They eat Italian in the kitchen, while we eat Thai or Burmese or Balinese in the dining room. When we go for Lunar New Year, Joy makes Mom something special. “Don’t order, Millie,” she tells her. “I’ve made something just for you.” Last year it was a new year dessert steamed in a banana leaf. This year it was a cold salad dish that is traditional for the new year in Thailand. There were chopped greens and there were long rice noodles: “Long noodles for long life,” Joy told Mom.

When Seth and I were there, just the two of us, earlier in January, Joy sat next to us and reminded us that Lunar New Year was coming. “It’s Year of the Mouse,” she said. I was puzzled. “I never heard of Year of the Mouse,” I told her. Joy raised her eyebrows and tilted her head and conceded that I was right. “Really it’s Year of the Rat. But rat and restaurant? Not good.”

I wasn’t so sure about this bit of political correctness brought to Chinese Lunar New Year, for the rat has always had its place of honor at the head of the Chinese zodiac, a smart cookie, a bit of a trickster. When the Jade Emperor announced the order of the zodiac animals would be determined by when they each arrived at his palace, Rat, who was one of the smaller animals, decided to ask Ox for a ride. Ox obliged, and Ox takes mighty steps, so was far ahead of the other animals. He was pretty certain he’d be first in the zodiac, and why wouldn’t he? But then Rat jumped off Ox and entered the palace first and this is why the Rat is the first of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, ahead of the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig.

Preparations for the new year ahead of its start always include a very thorough cleaning of everything in the home: it’s a washing away of all bad things from the last year. There is feasting with family and there are dumplings! Joy brought us two different kinds of dumplings on Saturday. Eating them, we hope for wealth and prosperity.

Fifteen days after the new year festival begins, the full moon returns. With it comes the Lantern Festival, marking the end of Lunar New Year. This year, it comes on February 8. This is usually when we see the dragon parades, and the dumplings will be replaced by balls of sticky rice, full and round like the full moon.

At Joy Noodles each year, ever since she opened her restaurant, Joy prints Lunar New Year cards to give to her customers and new t-shirts for the staff to wear for the year. The design on both always features the Chinese zodiac animal of the year. This year, Joy opted to skip the rat, swapping out the rat for a caricature of a woman holding a bowl of steaming noodles. Inside her card, she wrote us the following inscription:

Dear Millie, Marietta, John and Seth
Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Happy Year of the Rat 2020

So Joy did embrace Rat after all… but on her terms. We can’t hold that against her; she’s got a business to run, after all. Happy Year of the Rat to you, too. Gong Xi Fa Cai.

 

Hearts, & Your February Book of Days

The 8th of February and here, finally, comes your Convivio Book of Days calendar for the month! It is, as usual, a PDF document, printable on standard US Letter size paper. Half the red letter days of the month have already passed, I’m afraid, and what’s next is Valentine’s Day… and just so you know, we have so many delightfully odd Valentine gift ideas for you in our Convivio Book of Days Catalog. If you see something you like, order today or this weekend and you’ll have it in time for the big day. We ship via US Priority Mail, which takes two days to most destinations in the States. Spend $50 and we’ll even pay your shipping on domestic orders.

All that being said, you have my apologies for the belatedness. It’s been busy as all get out, mostly with things at work––markets, workshops, gallery concerts––and admittedly all things of my own doing. As a result, not only is the month’s calendar late, but I’ve also missed writing to you about St. Blaise’s Day, when throats are blessed, and St. Agatha’s Day, when we eat cream filled pastries that make us blush a bit, for they are meant to evoke a certain aspect of the female anatomy and it is hard to see them and to eat them, remembering that it was the chaste nuns of Sicily who first began making these delicacies centuries ago. And I missed writing to you about the Year of the Pig, this new year in the Chinese Lunar New Year cycle, although last night we celebrated––my mom and sister and Seth and me––at the beckoning of Joy, of Joy Noodles in West Palm Beach. We had her New Year dumplings and I had a pork soup that was Joy’s grandmother’s recipe, and we finished our meal with custard buns made of rice flour that looked like round little pigs. All this and yet February is not one of my favorite months. I have a lot to learn, I think, if I am to come to love it again. I keep busy busy busy and yet in the back of my mind I remember things like the 7th was the night two years ago that Seth and I sat in a box at the Kravis Center with friends listening to Rachmaninoff and Berlioz, even though my thoughts were elsewhere, with my dad in his hospital room. It was the night I first thought that maybe he would not make it through this ordeal. And today, the 8th, I will have to keep thoughts at bay that remind me that this is the night two years ago that I last spoke to him; the night we all kissed him goodnight and told him we loved him, and who knew then that that would be our last time to say these things?

I look back and I’m glad we did say them. We are not, by and large, a family that does. We are mostly loud (not me, so much… but these are my people) and a bit rough around the edges and not terribly emotional, at least not in obvious ways. We express our emotions through the kitchen and the table and we yell across the house at each other, just in conversation, and we often sound mad even when we are not. I would most likely never tell my family that I am thinking the things I think––keeping track in my mind of where I was on this date or another in Dad’s journey––but they’ll read it here, of course, and they, I imagine, will understand. I don’t need to tell them these things face to face. They know I ponder things a lot and turn thoughts over in my head and that I don’t talk much. Still, they love me as I am. They understand me, and I understand them. We are a terribly loyal bunch. We all miss Dad a lot. And we all continue doing what we do as best we can. This is what this time of year brings for me, and for them, too, I know, and perhaps for some of you, as well, for your own reasons––for the people that you miss, too. Which is all amazingly ok. We always have been and always will be well.

The cut and sewn paper hearts illustrating this month’s Convivio Book of Days calendar are by Merike Van Zanten.