A New Cycle: The Year of the Metal Rat
I can touch the sill worn by hands I’ll never know in this room with its low table where I brew chrysanthemum tea. — Lynda Hull, Chinese New Year
Occurring every 12 years, the Rat represents the beginning of the Chinese zodiac. The Year of the Metal Rat spans from January 25, 2020 through February 11, 2021, marking a renewal in Jupiter’s orbit. (Chinese astrologers divide the heavens into 12 sections that follow the transits of Jupiter, the Year Star.) 2020 corresponds to the metal element, giving the Rat additional strength & determination and making it a powerful harbinger of a new cycle.
In China, the New Year is traditionally celebrated with a week of cleaning and organizing, followed by the Spring Festival (Jan. 25th through Feb. 4th) and the Lantern Festival (Feb. 4th through 8th). Preparations include sweeping away bad luck and praying to the stove or kitchen god. In many Asian countries — including China, Vietnam, and Korea — the stove is the soul of the home, and the kitchen god is the protector of the family. Small offerings of food and incense are made to pay respect and mark the New Year.
On New Year’s Eve, families host dinners and exchange red envelopes filled with money, coins or charms for good luck. No cleaning is allowed on New Year’s Day, for fear of sweeping away the good luck. Many also post Spring Festival couplet poems or calligraphic decorations on their doors to keep away evil spirits. Good fortune and prosperity are key themes in a Metal Rat Year. To welcome blessings into your home, decorate with metal charms, lanterns, calligraphy, flowers, and the character 福 (fú) meaning “good fortune.”
To commemorate the end of New Year festivities, China celebrates the Lantern Festival. Lanterns are strung across streets, hung outside homes, and carried in parades. The lights represent the reunion of families, veneration of spirits, and hope for children. Lantern (天灯—tiān dēng) is a homonym for adding children (添丁—tiān dīng), making it a potent fertility symbol.
Whatever your heritage, you can use this time to reflect on the year to come, make room for the new and infuse your home with the warm glow of good luck. 新年快乐! (Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!) Happy New Year!