Year of the Water Snake
Cleaning house, buying new clothes and getting a haircut are just some of the many traditions that mark the days leading up to Chinese New Year, culminating with a bountiful dinner the evening before, where families come together to wish each other fortune, prosperity and good health. Married family members also give red envelopes containing money to children and teenagers as a blessing, and to ward off challenges of the coming year.
Then, at midnight, the fifteen day celebration begins. Evil spirits are chased off in the early hours of New Years Day with fireworks or firecrackers, but, most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time to honor one’s elders, so families pay visits to their most senior members .
This year, Chinese New Year, which is based on the passage of the Lunar Calendar, falls on Feb. 10, ushering in the Year of the Water Snake. But, as most people choose to spend that day with family, city-wide celebrations are set for one week later, on Feb. 17.
The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver's Chinatown has been an integral part of the city’s Chinese New Year celebrations since it opened in 1986.
“The new year is seen as a time when anything is possible; it is a very positive occasion,” says Gillian Wood, marketing coordinator for the gardens.
In keeping with that spirit, on Jan. 21 an ambitious 40-foot-long “living” snake was installed next to the garden’s Jade Water Pavillion. Made out of green willow and other organic materials by the Community Arts Council Vancouver and Hornby Island weaving artist Alastair Heseltine, the sculpture is part of a campaign to upcycle invasive plant species into art and will reside in the garden until April. The green willow usually sprouts around that time, so the snake will achieve an all- new wild and wooly look come spring.
Playing on the grand-scale Spring Festival, the most significant festival in China, where people entertain, trade, greet and share in good energy, Sun Yat-Sen Garden is undergoing its own transformation much sooner. On Feb. 17, visitors will be transported east on the “hot and noisy” theme of renao.
Last year, Wood estimates more than 2,000 turned out for the colourful, multicultural affair, featuring traditional foods and activities such as red couplet writing and calligraphy, dumpling-making demonstrations, paper dragon folding and balloon-dragon twisting (activities which, unlike in Mainland China, will mostly take place indoors). Red envelopes will also be handed out by “grandma and grandpa” from 10am to noon, backed by a mix of traditional and contemporary live music by bands such as the Black Bear Rebels and Toddish McWong. There is also a exhibition on the 12 different zodiac signs.
The propitious Year of the Water Snake is said to be a time for methodical progress and attention to detail. According to Wood, Snakes will find stable, loving relationships with Oxes, have fun flirtations with Dragons, and should avoid Monkeys as “both are a bit sneaky and can’t trust one another.” It’s also considered good luck to find a snake in your home.
Look for the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden banner in the annual Vancouver Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown, and follow the lion dancers as they guide you to the entrance of the garden.
“The Year of the Snake Temple Fair” at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden takes place Feb. 17 from 10am to 4pm. Entrance is by donation; 578 Carral.
Famous Snakes: Bob Dylan, Oprah Winfrey and Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson
Attributes: Enigmatic, intuitive, balanced, introspective and refined
Lucky numbers: 2, 4, 7 and 9
Lucky Day: Monday
Fun fact: BC is home to nine species of snakes. To learn more about them, head to BCReptiles.ca/snakes.htm