New Year's Hope

Happy New Year! At least that is the appropriate greeting today for about a billion of the people in the world. Today is sometimes called Chinese New Year and it is the biggest festival of the year in that country. It is also known as the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year. The Chinese calendar is a hybrid of lunar and solar elements. It occurs on the date of the first New Moon of the Chinese lunisolar calendar, based on the cycles of the moon and the earth. Chinese New Year has been celebrated for centuries. There is an ancient legend that tells of the defeat of a beast called Nain, who was chased away by villagers who used red colors, bright lights, and loud sounds.

There are lots of special foods that are shared in the celebration of Chinese New Year. Different ingredients have special meanings. Dumplings symbolize wealth. Noodles represent longevity. Fish signifies abundance. Red envelopes with money inside are exchanged for good luck.

The Chinese Zodiac is a twelve-year cycle, with an animal for each year. The year that begins today is the year of the tiger. The tiger is known for confidence and competitiveness, and marks the third year in the 12-year cycle. Those born in the year of the tiger are energetic and prepared to take risks. They are hungry for excitement and crave attention. They can also be rebellious, short-tempered and outspoken. They prefer to give orders rather than take them.

I can never remember my Chinese zodiac symbol. I have to look it up, but that is easy to do. I was born in the year of the snake. According to the zodiac, people born in the year of the snake are intelligent, wise and charming, good looking and alluring. They are deep thinkers, like to plan and are determined. They are quiet, reserved and give good advice.

I’m not very interested in zodiac or astrology. It has been my experience that people have many different factors shaping their personality. The position of the stars or the phase of the moon at birth seem to be very minor factors in the personality of individuals. From my point of view people with confidence and competitiveness are born every year. Folks who are intelligent, wise and charming are born each year as well.

I take note of the Chinese new year this year simply because we are nearing the birth of a new grandchild. The baby is likely to be born in the next week or so and given that a billion people in this world celebrate the Chinese new year, the child to be born will likely, at some point, look up or be informed of their Chinese animal and its attributes. Astrology aside, this child will probably be a bit competitive simply because it will be one of four children in the same family. Big families have their own sense of competition and each child develops their own sense of place within the family. I’m the fourth child in my family of origin, but I don’t feel like I had to be very competitive simply because the first three were girls, so I had the distinction of being the first son.

February is a good month for birthdays in our family. My great uncle Ted, whose name I share, was born on February 2. My wife, Susan’s birthday is in February, as is our oldest’s grandson’s birthday. We have a nephew and a niece with February birthdays. This new grandchild will give us yet another reason for celebrating the month of February.

As for the color red, bright lights and loud noises, I suppose there will be plenty of those things as well. Valentine’s Day is a marketing date in our culture. There is an entire aisle of Valentine’s cards, candies, and other items in the local grocery store. There is plenty of red. I’m not too sure about bright lights, but I know that there are more people who turn on lights than turn them off in our son’s family already. Whenever I am at their house, it seems like I’m always turning off lights around the place. And loud noises? Three children are pretty good at loud and I suspect adding another won’t make it any quieter. We won’t need fireworks to celebrate, we can go with the natural energy and excitement of children.

I am, however, thinking that eating some noodles might be a good thing for me. In our church, to celebrate Epiphany, we are given a star with a word written on it. Which word you receive is completely random, one of many written on the paper stars. This Epiphany, I drew out the word, “longevity.” Since noodles are a symbol of longevity, perhaps I should eat a bowl of them as a nod to the symbolism of the season. After all, it is way easier to heat up a cup of ramen in the microwave than it is to make dumplings.

I join a lot of other people in hoping that the year to come will be a little less stressful than the last couple of years. The pandemic has brought a lot of grief and sadness to so many families. People have had to endure separations and isolation. They have had major changes in employment and lifestyle. Even those who are not grieving the death of a loved one have a degree of grief over major changes in their lives. It seems appropriate to start this new year with renewed hope. Genuine hope, however, is not something that we can manipulate. One does not become hopeful by wishing. Hope arises out of a deep confidence in the goodness of the world and the possibility of newness. It is born of human imagination entwined with the goodness of creation.

Romans 15:13 is a benediction that is often given at the close of worship. It seems like a good blessing to offer to those we meet today: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

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