Chinese have the best new year

Thursday, February 03, 2011

So it's the lunar new year now, and upon reflection the Chinese new year seems to be positioned at just the right time. Take a look at three major periods of time for judging the new year:

Western (and most of the world): January 1
Chinese - around the beginning of February
Persian - the beginning of spring

The first one is by far the worst. January 1 doesn't feel new at all - the days are the shortest they'll ever be and the Earth is still almost completely still, giving you just a pathetic few seconds of extra sunlight per day. The coldest part of the year is still to come, and spring is far away. It's only a new year in the sense that a person who wakes up drunk in a rainy street somewhere with a bruise on his head and decides to turn over a new leaf has started a new life. Perhaps that is technically where a new life begins, but it sure doesn't feel like it at the time.

Skipping over to Persian: spring is here, and it feels like a new year. But then again, the first day of spring is where the lengthening of the day begins to slow. And just three months later the days will begin to shorten again. Why have a new beginning so close to autumn? Celebrating the new year at this time in the calendar feels like the former drunk celebrating his new life when he has already been clean and sober for a few years and with a few promotions under his belt as well. There's still a ways to go up, but it feels a bit too late to use the word new.

And now to the Chinese new year: it's still fairly cold and winter has not released the northern hemisphere from its grasp, but not only do the days grow longer with every passing day, the rate at which they do so increases as well. Spring is around the corner and you can feel it, even if it's not here yet. Having the new year in the beginning (the middle would be fine too) of February is like the drunk in the street who is now a few months clean. He's just finished up a month at his new company and is walking home. He passes by a bar and thinks hey, why not celebrate with just one beer? But then he shakes his head with a smile, and walks into a Starbucks instead to spend the next few hours sipping coffee and pass the evening reading a good book for the first time in a long time. He's still not rich and has a lot of debt to pay down, but things are looking up and he's feeling good.

Over here in Seoul the temperatures are positive for the first time in about three weeks, and there is no sign yet of them dropping again. But more importantly, it now smells like spring. You can smell the newness in the air right now.

How would one define the beginning of the year in this manner without using a lunar calendar? Easy. The beginning of the year starts halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. February 15th, February 16th, something like that.

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