The best way to see in the Chinese new year is with firecrackers and a lion dance, although I suspect that the firecrackers were slightly damp this year. They exploded with all their usual ferocity, but the heap of shattered cardboard smouldered for quite some time after the final explosion, which is not what is meant to happen.
Don’t ask me to explain the alleged personal characteristics of people born in the year of the snake, because I don’t believe any of it. For me, the more interesting question is why the Chinese, with thousands of animals to choose from, elected to include the snake in their twelve-animal zodiac. Very few people like snakes, which are listed as one of the ‘five noxious creatures’ of Chinese folklore (the others are centipedes, lizards, scorpions and toads).
One has to wonder at the composition of this list. The vast majority of lizards are completely harmless (a family of gheckos lives behind our fridge), and none of Hong Kong’s three toad species is toxic; ugly, yes, but not toxic. Spiders are notable absentees from the list. There are no venomous spiders in Hong Kong, but there are some large and scary ones, so their absence isn’t easy to explain.
We in the West are accustomed to thinking of the Chinese menagerie as occurring over a twelve-year cycle, but the actual cycle is 60 years, because each of the twelve animals is also associated with one of the five elements of Chinese cosmology: earth, fire, water, wood or metal. Three of these coincide with three of the four elements identified by the ancient Greeks. It is interesting to note the absence of air in the Chinese system; the reason for this omission can only be guessed at.
Meanwhile, welcome to the year of the water snake. Here are some photos from our own ceremony to usher in the new year: two photos of the firecrackers going off, and two photos of the ‘lion’ standing in the smouldering debris from the firecrackers.