ON A PERSONAL NOTE/By Maramis
The first thing about February that I’ve always liked is Groundhog Day. It starts the month off, on the 2nd, with the silly little tradition of whether a groundhog would see its shadow or not in order to determine if we’d have an early spring or a longer winter. Seeing his shadow seems to purport more winter weather. Some say that Phil is infallible in his prognosticating but who will be the first to tell a child that it’s not true.
But I so like the lightheartedness of that tradition. It goes all the way back to 1887 and was first reported by the Punxsutawney Spirit, a local newspaper. The Groundhog Day festival celebrates the emergence of a certain groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, from his burrow. And we all know what happens next. If you never watched the movie, “Groundhog Day,” you’re in for a real treat, and in addition to that, you’ll see what it’s all about in living color. (And you might even take it seriously enough to learn some major life lessons.)
Groundhog Day dates back to the Germanic tradition of Dachstag or ‘Badger Day,’ which was exactly like Groundhog Day, except it involved a badger rather than a groundhog.
Punxsutawney Phil, THE prognosticating groundhog who apparently is ageless, and who, also according to local legend, has presided over every Groundhog Day since the late 19th century to the present, and drinks something called ‘the elixir of life’ to keep himself going.
Phil’s long life is a real feat considering that, in the wild, a groundhog only tends to live for five to seven years.
Moving on to the next noteworthy day in February, we have Super Bowl Sunday, which this year was on the 7th. It’s all about football, great players, and some rather interesting commercials. Some people watch it for the commercials alone, some for their team or some individual player, and some just for the action. But most people like to root out loud for their team and eat a lot of finger food.
Next in the month comes the Chinese New Year celebration, this year on Feb. 12. Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival, is the most important celebration observed in China, with cultural and historic significance. The festival signals the beginning of spring, and the start of a new year according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
Chinese New Year’s importance is rooted deep in history, and today remains the most important occasion for generations of families to reunite and spend time together.
China’s lunar calendar is according to the moon. New Year always starts with a new moon for the Chinese. Secondly, it is according to the sun. Chinese New Year is always 1 to 2 months after China’s shortest day of the year (the winter solstice, December 21 or 22).
‘Start of Spring’ is an oddly named solar term, because spring is still a month or more away in China’s cold north, and wintry weather still lingers in south China. However, the Chinese still celebrate the forthcoming spring with the pre-Spring Festival.
This celebration, in earlier days, was meant for farmers and workers to have a rest from their year-long hard labor, and be ready to resume work refreshed and well-rested.
Today, everyone will still have a lengthy vacation to rest well, and regain power for the new year. And in its religious context, the festival also serves as a time to gain good fortune.
Would you be surprised that some of how they celebrate their holiday is similar to how we celebrate Christmas: visiting friends and family and having big family meals, exchanging gifts, decorating, etc. And there are always some religious practices, such as making offerings to their ancestors or lighting incense.
Before the festival starts, another widespread tradition is to do a thorough house cleaning and to acquire new clothes in order to start the new year fresh and on a good (auspicious) note.
Today, many still follow the older customs, but obviously add a few new developments. Families gather around to watch CCTV’s New Year Gala show during the ‘Reunion Dinner ’ and stay up to watch fireworks at midnight. (Sound familiar?)
Red is their lucky color, and according to many New Year legends, evil spirits are scared of red, so red envelopes were originally used to suppress or ward off demons while giving money.
Chinese New Year, like Christmas in the West, is “the season of good will” in China, so most people receive a red envelope from someone, whether employer or family.
Festivities also include Dragon and lion dances, which are traditional performances for joyous festivals and big occasions to enhance the festive atmosphere.
It is traditionally believed that performing dragon or lion dances (during the Spring Festival) is a way to pray for good luck and drive away evil spirits.
And on to the next February holiday: Valentine’s Day, a day celebrating Love. End of story.
Next we have Presidents Day, a worthy day to remember, in our time hooking up both President Lincoln’s birthday and President Washington’s birthday, with the Monday Holiday bill which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1971, obviously to create more 3-day weekends.
Then, we have Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday, which officially starts the season of Lent, which lasts all the way up to Easter.
Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday. So-called, in a way, because it is a day to eat up all one’s left-over food that cannot be eaten during Lent, when one is fasting. Often, a lot of butter and eggs are “leftover,” and tradition has it that they were used to make a lot of pancakes, which led to the day also being called Pancake Tuesday.
So people gorge themselves on Fat Tuesday, then fast to atone for their sins starting the following day, on Ash Wednesday. Those are not holidays, but like Groundhog Day and even Valentine’s Day, they are days of note and part of this country’s tradition.
And people everywhere try to create their own national days, but unless they are celebrating one of your favorite issues, causes, or foods, you wouldn’t know them and I’m not going to mention them. I like the ones that made the cut to appear on our calendars, and hope they don’t ever get cluttered up with notations such as Feb. 20, National Love Your Pet Day, or Feb. 23, National Banana Bread Day, or even on a little higher note, National Science Day on the 28th.
We’ll let those who care look up the days of their choice and celebrate them as they will!
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at email@example.com.