Paws up for Dublin’s Chinese Year of the Dog

Carolina Hernández de Toledo reports on the recent Chinese New Year Festival in Dublin.

Dogs took over Dublin recently for the Chinese New Year of the Dog, bursting into the city with different activities, traditions and cultural exchanges along the 27 venues of the festival. The 15 days’ celebration covered the city in the colour red, wishing everybody good luck and a great year.

The festival, like the Chinese Lunar New Year, began on 16 February and continued until 4 March, and more than 10,000 people attended the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival, hoping to have a good time and to satisfy their curiosity about the deeper meaning of this year’s celebration.

What does it mean to be in the Year of the Dog? According to the Chinese zodiac, people born in this year are 24, 36, 48 or 60 years old. They are thought to be active, loyal and vigilant. The element earth enriches the dog’s character and adds needed stability; it gives them a sense of right and wrong in long and faithful relationships.

“I am a dog, so I volunteer hoping to spread the Chinese culture to all the international people living in Dublin,” said Chin Chin, one of the festival’s volunteers who has been away from home for seven years and believes in the power of traditions to bring the family closer.

“I am a dog, so I volunteer hoping to spread the Chinese culture to all the international people living in Dublin”

As Chin Chin mentioned, to understand the importance of the dog to the Chinese lunar year, a short explanation of Sheng Xiao, the Asian Lunar Calendar, is needed.

The Asian Lunar Calendar, known also as the Traditional Calendar, consists of a 12-year cycle rather than months, with each year corresponding to one of 12 animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. How were the 12 animals chosen? There is an old myth explained with an old tale called “The Great Race”.

A long time ago, the Jade Emperor decreed a great race to decide the years on the calendar. Each year would be named in the order of the animals’ place in the race. The results of the race were to be decided with a swim across a river. The first winner was the rat, which asked the ox for a ride on his back, but as soon as the ox neared the other side of the river, the rat jumped ahead of him, claiming first place for himself.

The disappointed ox took second place, followed by the powerful tiger, then the rabbit which had crossed the river by leaping from stone to stone. The dragon appeared next, becoming fifth in the race because he was helping others.

The mighty horse got there fast and with a secret passenger attached to him, a snake, which slithered ahead of the horse across the finish line. Not long after, a sheep, a monkey and rooster came to the shore, helping each other to cross.

A dog bounded into 11th place, stopping now and then to play in the water. Lastly a little pig scurried across the finish line. It had stopped for a feast and then continued the race, becoming the 12th animal of the zodiac cycle. This ancient myth appeals to the imagination, helping the Chinese people piece together certain mysteries of life.

Each zodiac sign is also associated with five Taoist elements: metal, wood, water, fire and earth. The elements interrelate among each other, believed to be the common law of motions and changes of creatures in the universe. A person’s characteristics are decided by their birth year’s zodiac animal, sign and element. This is the 11th year on the cycle, the year of the metal dog.

Chinese people believe firmly in the Lunar Calendar; it governs traditional activities in China. Their belief is so strong that they even decide who to marry depending on his or her zodiac sign and element, the year when their babies are to be born, holidays, or even the correct day to make an investment.

There are several Chinese New Year traditions that have passed for thousands of generations and which might be missing at the Dublin festival, such as:

  • Hóng bāo or the red envelope with money, which the adults give to the kids for good luck.
  • Chun Lián or spring festival couplets are poetry lines written on a red paper wishing good luck, such as “fortune is arriving”, and are placed on the front doors.
  • Yānhuā or fireworks are traditionally displayed in several countries around the world; the fireworks are meant to scare away evil spirits and demons.

There were a lot of different daily activities for all the family at the Chinese festival involving art expressions connecting the participants to Chinese culture. The activities were musical performances, dancing, hand crafting, food tasting, and several workshops around the city.

It was an ideal weekend activity for parents to do with their children, an opportunity to learn something new, to experience something different with more families, and connect with the Chinese culture and community.

On his first year at the festival, Fernando said: “My kids are having a blast drawing and watching the little girls dancing, and as for me, I think the decoration and the food are pretty good.”

Humans create different kind of events worldwide to express harmony and to unite different type of cultures in order to understand each other.

According to the Traditional Calendar, zodiac dogs are born in 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006 and 2018. They are always ready to help others and to see the best in every person; these characteristics will define a person’s actions throughout his/her life, becoming important values to learn from zodiac dogs this year.

There are many traditions in China, and not all of them are known internationally unless an important event like the Chinese New Year happens, and Dublin as an international city understands the value of this type of event, not only to its Chinese citizens but to all the immigrants living in Ireland who are yearning for their countries and families at such important dates of the year.

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