Photo by Ken Cohen, Chinese New Year at Jasmine Seafood Restaurant, San Diego
©Kenneth S. Cohen
Calendars, whether written or symbolized by solstice markers and stone circles, are probably as old as humanity. Although today we think of calendars as ways of remembering holidays and other important dates as well as organizing or allocating time, they also have many other important uses. Calendars mark times for planting, harvesting, sailing (tides), healing, and blessing; they may advise us of things to do and things to avoid. The original time keepers are the sun, moon and stars, and calendrical systems are based on their movements.
The traditional Chinese calendar is based on the moon and is thus called the “Lunar Calendar”. The Lunar New Year is generally the second new moon after the winter solstice. In 2023, Chinese New Year’s Day is the new moon on January 22. The celebration lasts two weeks long and ends with the full moon, called the Festival of Heaven or Lantern Festival on February 5. The year of the rabbit ends on February 9, 2024.
Every year is represented by an animal and an element. In other words, if you were born in the year of the rabbit, it would be interesting to know if you are a water rabbit, a fire rabbit, a metal rabbit, an earth rabbit, or a wood rabbit.
2023 is a Water Rabbit Year. However, each animal also relates to an element. The Rabbit is Wood. Hence, this is a Water Wood Year. The first element “water” is called the “heavenly stem” and represents spirituality. The second element, wood, is called the “earthly branch” and symbolizes the physical world, especially the environment and economy.
Elements may be either in harmony or conflict. This year the elements are in harmony. Because water grows wood (element of the Rabbit), water is considered the mother of wood. Thus, in this Year of the Rabbit, the heavenly stem (water element) is the source of the earthly branch (wood). This indicates harmony of yin and yang, better economic and environmental policies, and in general opportunities for positive change.
Not surprisingly, the rabbit is adaptable, gentle and good hearted. Does this mean that the sharp edge of war and politics will be softened this year? Let’s hope so. The rabbit symbolizes peace, as well as prosperity and longevity.
Preparing for the New Year
Jan 21 New Year’s Eve. Families symbolically seal their doors with blessing charms and vertical scrolls of Chinese characters embossed on red paper. Examples include: “May Gold and Jade Fill Your Home,” and “Live Long as the Pine and Crane”.
Jan 22 New Year’s Day. At dawn open the front door to welcome the energy of the New Year. Some families set off firecrackers as a way of celebrating and to scare away any lingering negative forces. It is important to have a festive family meal and to wish a happy near year (bai nian) to friends, teachers, and family, especially older relatives who may have been unable to attend the family celebration.
Particular foods are believed to bring good fortune if eaten on New Year’s Day, including chicken (for good fortune), fish (for abundance), noodles (for longevity), and dumplings because they look like ancient gold ingots. Avoid duck, because the word duck (ya), sounds like a word that means to oppress. Also, don’t say the number four in Chinese (si), because it sounds like the word for death. On the other hand, some numbers are especially auspicious: three (san) because it sounds like life (sheng), six (liu) because it sounds like “flowing” (also pronounced liu), and eight (ba) because it sounds like wealth (fa). After the meal, the younger generation are happy to receive the traditional gift of red envelopes (hong bao) with money inside. My Taoist teacher, Dr. Huang, always gave me a red envelope on New Year’s Day and encouraged me to offer the same to my students. We also burned incense and performed special rituals at his Taoist altar.
And how wonderful to visit a Chinese restaurant or cultural center during the new year period to celebrate and enjoy the acrobatic Lion Dance, representing wisdom, prosperity good luck and the power to scare away misfortune.
Lucky and Unlucky Forces
大利在北 The North is lucky this year in terms of health, wealth, and opportunity— a good direction to face, to travel, and for home renovation.
三煞在西 San Sha "Three Killing Forces" in the West. For every year, there is a direction of bad luck (called the San Sha)-- including disasters, financial loss, loss of reputation, worry, misunderstanding, and conflicts. This year the killing forces are in the West. That means it is best not to travel west, or do home renovation in the west side of your home or office, or disturb the ground by digging holes in the west side of your property. The latter would disturb the Lords of the Soil (Tu Di Gong and his wife, Tu Di Po), who influence prosperity and the well-being of ancestral spirits. It is best not to sit in the west side of a home or office (thus facing east). It is fine, however, to sit facing west. Do not buy or move into a house this year with a west facing main door. If you already have a west facing door, be sure to close it gently with minimal noise this year, in order not to disturb or awaken negative forces. You can prevent adverse influences from the san sha by keeping the west portion of your home especially clean, orderly, and quiet. The san sha may be neutralized and the qi in your home stabilized by placing feng shui gourds 葫蘆 and/or green plants in the san sha area (west). Some people prefer to place statues or images of three mythical beasts in the san sha region. These are the pi xiu (also called pi yao) which looks like a winged lion, fu dog (guardian lion), and chi lin (also called long ma “dragon horse” or Chinese unicorn) which has the body of a horse, head of a dragon, and scales like a carp.
五黃在西北 Wu Huang "The Five Yellow Sick Forces" This year illness is associated with the northwest direction. It is best not to travel to the northwest part of your country or state/province or disturb the ground, dig or do home renovation in the northwest area of your home or business. For example, this is not the year to plant a garden on the northwet side of your property. If possible, avoid spending a great deal of time in the northwest section of your home. A mystic way to lessen the power of the Wu Huang is to place a statue of a green pagoda in the northwest portion your home or work space. Green is the color of the wood element. In five element (or five phase) theory, green (wood) neutralizes the power of yellow (earth).
太歲在東 Tai Sui the Great Year Star, also called Grand Duke of Jupiter, is a spirit that is different each year, appointed to oversee the energies of the year and the world’s affairs. The Tai Sui spirit this year is Pi Shi 皮時, a general during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-535) who was known for his military and martial arts ability.
This year Tai Sui is in the East. Tai Sui likes cleanliness, light, dryness rather than humidity, peace and quiet: thus, keep that part of your space especially clean, well lit (curtains and windows open). Remove flowers plants or water containers from that area, and it is best to not have noisy things such as a computer, TV, speakers, or air conditioner in the east area.
In this Rabbit Year, Tai Sui is predicted to clash with those born in years of the Rabbit, Rooster, Dragon, Rat, and Horse. If you were born in any of those years, then during 2023 it is best to take extra safety precautions, avoid arguments and risky behavior, and avert misfortune by engaging in virtuous and charitable activities. Chinese markets, feng shui shops, and some Chinese bookstores sell special Tai Sui ritual paper that may be burned as an offering to Tai Sui. Taoist temples offer more elaborate An Tai Sui 安太歲 (Pacifying Tai Sui) or Bai Tai Sui 拜太歲(Worshipping Tai Sui) rituals. If you were born in a year that puts you at risk of Tai Sui affliction, it is advisable to do the An Tai Sui Ritual on Chinese New Year’s Day and, for extra protection, on the new and full moon throughout the year. When Tai Sui conflicts with my birth year, I like to keep a Tai Sui talisman card (the size of a credit card) in my wallet. These are available in shops and online.
Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It
As you think about predictions and characteristics of the New Year, please remember that a core principle of Taoism is change and adaptability. The astrological influences are just that: influences, and not “written in stone”. Consider predictions as an encouragement to make better choices and meet challenges with responsibility and intelligence. If there are negative tendencies, you are called to leadership to help turn things around.
As your mind becomes free of limited views and conditioning and when your life is guided by virtue (De 德), you are less subject to the decrees or forces of fate. “Is there free will or predestination?” I once asked Alan Watts. He replied, “You are free to the extent that you know who you are and not otherwise.” I am reminded of a saying of the great Howard Thurman, mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”