In the year 4711 | Tish Gregory

It is the year 4711 according to the Chinese. Although they are thousands of years ahead of us, it somehow still looks and feels a lot like today.  Which begs the question as to how did they get so out of sync with the rest of the world?

The origin of the Chinese calendar contains two parts. The first part is a lunar-solar calendar based on astrological observations going back to the 14th century.  It is further complicated by the beginning and end of emperor dynasties, adding an additional month, and conquering a mythical lion-like monster called Nian, a Chinese word for year.

Although the Gregorian calendar (used by Western Europeans and now across the world) was introduced to the Chinese as early as 1582, they resisted using it until it was officially adopted by them in 1949.

But even today, the Chinese community still embraces the traditional Chinese calendar, rich in its astrology, numerology and zodiac signs to determine festival dates and guidance for the future so as to obtain favor and fortune.

This brings us to the second part of the Chinese calendar - the introduction of 12 zodiac animals.  Legend has it that Buddha invited all the animals to meet with him.  When twelve came, he named a year after each one of them.  He proclaimed those born in that year, and each subsequent 12 year period, would have some of the characteristics of that animal’s personality.

So Feb. 10 begins the Chinese New Year of the snake, and specifically this year – 2013 - is devoted to the water snake.

Perhaps if you were born in a year of the snake, you might see yourself in some of the characteristics attributed to the snake:  intelligent, materialistic, analytical, insightful, gracious but private, stressed when lives aren’t peaceful and in order.

When online researching these characteristics, I found one that caught my eye:  Women, under the sign of the snake, do well in housework, but are irritable. That’s when I realized there might be a little bit of snake in me.

To be sure, trying to understand the origins of the traditional Chinese calendar is challenging.  But I do understand two Chinese traditions – Chinese food and fortune cookies.

Did you know that eating Chinese food makes you smart?  I discovered this by watching crime dramas on television.  It seems every time the detectives have to work late, they are eating Chinese food.  And, not long after, they solve the crime.  From this I deduced that eating Chinese food helps sharpen your deductive powers.

Although the actual origin of the Chinese fortune cookie is blurred, we all look with anticipation for its words of wisdom about our good luck.  It’s reassuring that someone in a factory that makes 60 million fortune cookies a month can predict my future.

Nowadays the messages are mixed – sometimes a prediction, sometimes an inspirational message, and sometimes a row of six numbers.  More than 20 years ago I bought into those numbers and have played them faithfully ever since in each and every lotto game.  But the fortune cookie holds a big secret.  It doesn’t say “when” your good fortune will come.  I’m waiting on that other fortune cookie that has the date on it – hoping it’s not the year 4711, based on the Gregorian calendar currently in use today.

I want to wish our Chinese community in Renton every good fortune for their new year and if I was to give them a fortune cookie, it would read:  “Plan for many pleasures ahead."

Tish Gregory is a free-lance writer.  She can be reached at:  tishgregory@aol.com

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