Tuesday, January 21, 2014

HOLiDAY TiDiNGS 马的一年 Chinese New Year ____ January 31, 2014

千里马 Qian Li Ma*, pencil drawing, current era

The Year of the Horse

Lunar Calendar Year 4712

                        by Han Gan, Tang Dynasty, 8th Century

Chinese New Year

Sugar and fruit for the Kitchen God
Whenever the New Year comes;
A new felt cap for old Papa
For old Mama, a cake of plums.

For the boys, some firecrackers,
For the girls, flowers bright and new,
But sugar and fruit for the Kitchen God
Whenever the New Year's due.

    Adapted from Chinese Mother Goose by Myra Cohn Livingston

Hand painted, embossed foil label for fireworks box, China, circa 1900

From  Here She Comes!

Here she comes!
Burn the bonfire,
Bang the drum,
Hear the laughter spout and run
From her wide and happy mouth, now
Here she comes!

Let’s join her!
I feel fire in my skin,
As we all begin again
The ancient circling of the year;
Take her hand now, she draws near!
Happy New Year!

       Deborah Chandra

Sung Dynasty statue of a goddess of mercy

Stories Made Men
The Legend of the Creation

From the Miao People in China, recited at major festivals

Who made heaven and earth?
Who made insects?
Who made men?
Made male and made female?
I who speak don't know.

       Heavenly King made heaven and earth,
       Heavenly King made insects,
       Heavenly King made men and demons,
       Made male and made female.
       How is it you don't know?

How made heaven and earth?
How made insects?
How made men and demons?
Made male and made female?
I who speak don't know.

       Heavenly King was intelligent,
       Spat a lot of spittle into his hand,
       Clapped his hands with a noise,
       Produced heaven and earth,
       Tall grass made insects,
       Stories made men and demons,
       Made men and demons,
       Made male and made female.
       How is it you don't know?

The legend proceeds to state how and by whom the heavens were propped up and how the sun was made and fixed in its place.

       --E. T. C. Werner, Myths and Legends of China (1922)

             The Dragon Leaps around in the Grand Occasion, Chinese folk art style, current era

The Chinese New Year 

The Chinese New Year is the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. 
Chinese months are reckoned by the lunar calendar, with each month beginning on the darkest day. New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest. In China, people may take weeks of holiday from work to prepare for and celebrate the New Year.
Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal's year would have some of that animal's personality. Those born in horse years are cheerful, skillful with money, perceptive, witty, talented and good with their hands. Chopin, Rembrandt, President Theodore Roosevelt, Aretha Franklin, and Harrison Ford were born in the year of the horse.

Fireworks and Family Feasts
At Chinese New Year celebrations people wear red clothes, decorate with poems on red paper, and give children "lucky money" in red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend can drive away bad luck. The fireworks that shower the festivities are rooted in a similar ancient custom. Long ago, people in China lit bamboo stalks, believing that the crackling flames would frighten evil spirits.
In China, the New Year is a time of family reunion. Family members gather at each other's homes for visits and shared meals, most significantly a feast on New Year's Eve. In the United States, however, many early Chinese immigrants arrived without their families, and found a sense of community through neighborhood associations instead. Today, many Chinese-American neighborhood associations host banquets and other New Year events.

The Lantern Festival
The lantern festival is held on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Some of the lanterns may be works of art, painted with birds, animals, flowers, zodiac signs, and scenes from legend and history. People hang glowing lanterns in temples, and carry lanterns to an evening parade under the light of the full moon.
In many areas the highlight of the lantern festival is the dragon dance. The dragon—which might stretch a hundred feet long—is typically made of silk, paper, and bamboo. Traditionally, the dragon is held aloft by young men who dance as they guide the colorful beast through the streets. In the United States, where the New Year is celebrated with a shortened schedule, the dragon dance always takes place on a weekend. In addition, many Chinese-American communities have added American parade elements such as marching bands and floats.

               --By Holly Hartman from

Fire Dragon Dance, Hong Kong

From The Last Day of the Year

The year about to end
Is like a snake creeping in a field.
You have no sooner seen it
Than it has half disappeared.
It is gone and its trouble is gone with it.
It could be worse if you could catch it by its tail.
Why bother to try when it will do you no good? 

      Su Tung P’o, b. 1036, translated by Kenneth Rexroth

Painting by Liu Danzhian for another version of the poem that follows by Su Tung P'o

Shui Tiao Ko Tou

Will a moon so bright ever arise again?
Drink a cupful of wine and ask of the sky.
I don't know where the palace gate of heaven is,
Or even the year in which tonight slips by.
I want to return riding the whirl-wind! But I
Feel afraid that this heaven of jasper and jade
Lets in the cold, its palaces rear so high.
I shall get up and dance with my own shadow.
From life endured among men how far a cry!

Round the red pavilion
Slanting through the lattices
Onto every wakeful eye,
Moon, why should you bear a grudge, O why
Insist in time of separation so to fill the sky?
Men know joy and sorrow, parting and reunion;
The moon lacks lustre, brightly shines; is all, is less.
Perfection was never easily come by.
Though miles apart, could men but live for ever
Dreaming they shared this moonlight endlessly! 

     Su Tung P’o, b. 1036


To what can our life on earth be likened? 
To a flock of geese, 
alighting on the snow. 
Sometimes leaving a trace of their passage. 

     Su Tung P’o, b. 1036

Pu suan tzu

A fragment moon hangs from the bare tung tree
The water clock runs out, all is still
Who sees the dim figure come and go alone
Misty, indistinct, the shadow of a lone wild goose?

Startled, she gets up, looks back
With longing no one sees
And will not settle on any of the cold branches
Along the chill and lonely beach 

     Su Tung P’o, b. 1036

The Year of the Horse

        Flying Horse, Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD)  

                     photo by James Stanfield


*Qian Li Ma 
千里马, means horse that covers a thousand-kilometers a day; winged steed - person of great talent.  (I was unsure from the listing online whether Qian Li Ma was the name of the artist or a title for the watercolor.  Both Qian and Ma are common family names.) 

马的一年 Mǎ de yī nián  is "the year of the horse" in Chinese

马  means "horse" and is a pictograph showing the body, mane and legs of the horse. This is easier to see in the traditional Chinese character for horse, which has four downward strokes indicating the legs, and several strokes above that show the flowing mane:

Happy New Year



I wish you a very happy and prosperous 4712! 



"Chinese New Year" and "Here She Comes!" from New Year's Poems, selected by Myra Cohn Livingston. Holiday House, NY. 1987

Excerpt from "The Last Day of the Year" from Callooh! Callay! Holiday Poems for Young Readers, selected by Myra Cohn Livingston. Atheneum, NY. 1978.  Found in One Hundred Poems from the Chinese by Kenneth Rexroth. New Directions. 1971

Other poems by Su Tung P'o found on

Paper cut horse from

HOLiDAY TiDiNGS is a continuing series of articles for this blog that focus on poetry and other literature written for or appropriate to specific holidays.


“Maid of Honor”, Zhang xuan & Zhou Fang, Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD)

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