That outta get some attention.
Right inside our front gate and on the corner of the nearest intersection there are people hawking red panties. With tigers on them. They’re piled up right next to all the other Chinese New Year decorations: lucky hanging lamps, lucky window hangings, lucky door hangings, lucky underwear… Mountains of fireworks are piled on the opposite corner (also lucky). They’ve been on sale for about two weeks now because Spring Festival is coming, and if it’s your animal’s year in the Chinese zodiac (your “life origin year” 本命年), you’d best be wearing your lucky red underwear. And lucky red long-johns (also for sale). And lucky red every other article of clothing including your belt. Red helps people avoid evil spirits (避邪), especially the Nian monster (more Nian monster here and here).
Not everyone follows this tradition. Even if everyone did you’d only wear all red once every twelve Spring Festivals (people turning 12, 24, 36, etc. after the start of Spring Festival). Those that do aren’t hard to spot, obviously. And the stores are all conspicuously abundantly stocked with lucky red underwear. There’s lots of variety in the supermarkets, but these designs are for sale on the sidewalk right outside our building next to the vegetable, bean, and fried noodle vendors:
The tiger on the left is on a fú character (福 — good fortune, happiness, auspiciousness), and the tiger on the right says “Year of the tiger good luck!” （虎年好运）。 I told you it was lucky red underwear.
And let’s clear up some confusion about what animal you are. Forget those calendars that say, “If you’re born in [whatever year], then you’re a [hippo, or whatever].” They’re wrong. The animal changes at Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), not January 1st. Spring Festival can fall pretty much any time in January or February, so if you were born after January 1st but before Spring Festival you’re still in the old year with the old year’s animal. Jessica’s a horse and I’m a goat (nice!). L’s a cow (thanks for nothing, China!). Wikipedia has a handy chart so you can accurately find out if you’re a monkey or hippo.
Other stuff about celebrating Chinese New Year’s:
- Pun-based Chinese New Year customs
- Spending Chinese New Year with a Chinese family
- The Nian monster is coming! Better get some red underwear!
- Sharing Chinese New Year’s with the neighbours
- Happy New Year! Congratulations for not being eaten!
- Chinese New Year: a Passover?
- Happy New Year! (Taibei 2006)