Western civilization follows a calendar started by a Roman, Julius Caesar, and followed by a Catholic Pope called Gregory VIII. These are based on the solar year, with 365 days and an extra day every four years in February. The other half of the earth has been using the moon as a guide for 4,000 years, and in Asia celebrate a lunar New Year. And I am so into it. Mostly for the food, so I will give you a recipe. “You are welcome.” I am sure I will hear “Thank you,” later. I am not ignoring the Mayan calendar, but I can’t cook Mayan.
The Oriental calendar is based on 12 animals, one for each year. The Western calendar has the Zodiac, based on a symbol for each month. Last year was the the Year of the Rat.
The Chinese Jade Emperor made a proclamation that the order of animals would be who gets to the palace first. The Ox got there first, but with his kind heart he gave the Rat a ride and as he arrived, the Rat jumped off his back and was declared first. What a dirty trick. You notice it was a Rat, not a Mouse.
This coming February 12 will be the year of the Metal Ox. Each animal has an element with special meaning: metal, earth, water, fire, and wood. The fun of learning other cultures are the stories associated with them. My son, William, was born in 1973 and he is a big Ox. Those born this year are reliable, responsible and stubborn. Yup that’s about it. My younger son, Tom, was born in 1975, the year of the Rabbit, symbol of hope, long life and a pet of the Moon Goddess. Yup, he loves that, too. Do you believe me? According to tradition, the party should start from New Year, this Friday, and go on for 16 days, until the Lantern Festival. Seven days before New Year there is a period of cleaning your house and shopping for gifts. (It reminds me of how the house is cleaned before Jewish Passover.) Shops are closed. (We have this covered with the pandemic.) Then the celebration starts with fireworks and recognition of ancestors with incense, like Día de los Muertos.
Banners of red and gold are hung. The family reunion includes a feast where children receive happy money in red envelopes. Days two to seven you visit your relatives. A daughter would bring her husband and children over to her parent’s home for lunch. Day eight most people go back to work until the Lantern Festival with beautiful round lanterns hung, and when delicious dumplings are eaten. More fireworks end the event. I am not sure if they have a real Ox anytime, but I like it better than that Rat.
With the restaurants closed the party will have to be held at home. I recommend red tablecloths, gold-colored candlesticks and fireworks, only if you won’t start a forest fire. Smith’s has a large selection of Oriental foods. Brown rice is essential as no white foods are served. Colors have meanings and, in this culture, white equals death. Red is lucky even if it is wrapped candy. Blue is healing, or long life. Yellow is nobility, richness, and green is fertility, and growth. Oranges are a symbol of plenty and good luck. Chicken is easy to cook with a good teriyaki sauce on it. All vegetables are important to welcome in spring. Dumplings are in the frozen food section, but noodles are key to these celebrations and I have the recipe for you.
Here’s cold noodle salad as told to me by Han at Amerasia restaurant. Take three to four packs of ramen noodle soup and cook according to directions except only cook them “al dente.” Rinse with cold water and drain well. You can lay out paper towels if necessary. Grate a couple of skinned carrots on a handheld grater. You can not use a food processor for this, or you will end up with soup. Take two long stalks of celery and cut on an angle with very sharp knife, to match the carrots. Cut up two bunches of green onions with all the white and some of the green top. Add a teaspoon of minced garlic. Add red pickled ginger, in a jar refrigerated. It must be red, and you drain it. A small jar will do. Go and find a bottle of Asian dressing, I recommend Paul Newman’s, and mix. Keep in the fridge over night and you will love it. Roaring Mouse, looking for an Ox, out.