Can a water dragon breathe fire when it’s wet? And other conundra

Letters from China

By Patrick Murphy – January 2012

The Chinese have an amazingly complicated calendar, but for all its sophistication and complexities you would think they could, at least, get the placement of Spring correct, right? Apparently not, as this is Chinese Spring. What we call “Chinese New Year” is called by the Chinese “Spring Festival.” Hello? It’s January. The days are short, the nights are long and it’s cold as a botch. Spring? Spring? The answer to the question, “Can 1.3 billion people get it wrong?” is a resounding “yes.”

Water Dragon by Eyespash

Water Dragon by Eyespash

People in Beijing right now (right now if you’re reading this when it’s day time in China) will be lining up to get into Temple Fairs, will be kneading dough to make dumplings (in the north) or rolling out skins to make Spring Rolls (get it? That’s why they’re called Spring Rolls — because they eat them when it’s Spring. Or when they think it’s Spring, which it’s not) in the south.

Right now more than 100 million people are somewhere else — they’ve gone home to visit relatives and they’ll stay for a week or two, then the trains will be packed to the rafters and the planes will be at maximum capacity and everyone will rush back again.

The Chinese calendar is based on the lunar cycle, which is why Chinese New Year moves around, staying within the months of January and February only through the magic of Leap Months, carefully doled out to keep the holiday from moving, say, closer to Spring. Each year is named for one of twelve animals, this year’s being the Dragon. Beyond that, however, the calendar also considers five qualities, five modifiers. These are Earth, Water, Metal, Wood, and Fire. This go-round, it’s the year of the Water Dragon. Twelve creatures, five aspects, and you can calculate that we won’t see another Water Dragon Year for another 60 years.

Spring or not, we wish you all a very happy Chinese New Year, and dragons being especially auspicious creatures (in China) our hopes that yours is a year to write home about.

Patrick Murphy – Not in Beijing
January 24, 2012

  • Image by Eyesplash  from Flickr Creative Commons

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Xiaorong
    Jan 30, 2012 @ 13:38:48

    Here is what my mom told me when I was little: the reason why we Chinese celebrate Spring Festival in the coldest, darkest days of the year is that: when most people have fallen depression, have lost hope of spring, the celebration comes to remind them that spring is indeed coming, and it is just around the corner. It is not the placement of spring, but to bring hope of spring and life back to the people. “Now that winter is here, how can spring be far?!”

    HOPE, that is what Spring Festival all about!

    Reply

  2. Jay Collier
    Jan 30, 2012 @ 14:14:03

    That makes perfect sense! Thank you.

    Reply

  3. Nga-Chi
    Feb 13, 2012 @ 14:11:16

    That is an excellent message, Xiaorong. Thank you!

    Reply

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The Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine provides forums and outreach that promote cultural interchanges between the US and China.

Some rights reserved. Please share content responsibly. Banner image: Peonies, Yun Shouping (1633–1690), Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons. Produced by The Compass LLC.