Sunday, February 17, 2013

Don't fear the cycle of the snake, fear the recycling of the dragon

Chinese New Year slithered in this week to my children's delight.

All week long Ittybit has been studying the customs and traditions that cycle and weave and undulate and blast into colorful orbit around Chinese communities worldwide. She scours the internet looking for creations, foods and fireworks.

She slides the screen of her tablet, searching through parades in China, Philadelphia and Chicago for inspiration.

She stops on a page adorned with a snake – the animal of the year -- as I read over her shoulder …

“Huh … it's actually the year of the Black Water Snake to be specific,” I point to the small print.

“That's cool, I guess,” she says, wishing I would go haunt her brother.

“Did you know that the snake is a sign of flexibility and strength?”

“Yes. I see that,” she answers, annoyed at my continuing intrusion.

“And that a water snake is a sign of financial prosperity?”

“I don't know … that might be canceled out by the color black, seeing as how that makes it all a bit murky. Like you can't see it at the bottom of the water.”

“Not to mention the black mamba … Now that's a deadly snake!”

“MOM! Shussh! You're going to scare dad!”

To say he's not fond of serpents is an understatement.

Whether one needs to be taken out of the pool filter or used to clear a drain matters not – He refuses to handle either.

But snake or dragon, tiger or rabbit, even he admits the Lunar New Year is a colorful, other-worldly, 15-day experience that makes the western celebration of lowering a crystal ball in the dark of night seem anemic on the verge of bloodless.

Just the passing of time with corporate sponsors.

Ittybit is especially excited for this New Year, since her class is celebrating with a party and sample platter of foods. The fact that she and her classmates mostly fall into the category of Black Water Sheep did little to dampen her excitement at being able to label her brother a Red Fire Pig and point to Chinese astrological charts as evidence.

Perhaps what delights her most -- and what she relishes revealing to teachers and friends – are the Brown Earth Monkey-like antics of her dear-old-mother the year we made a cardboard parade dragon one winter break two Februaries ago. And how we completed it just in time for the town's annual People's Parade parade in July.

The way she explains, however, hinges on the following year, in which parade patriarchs put forth a proclamation reminding residents to highlight their favorite AMERICAN traditions as part of the Independence Day procession.

“She may throw monkey-wrenches into the works, but she means well,” their father laughs, before reconsidering: “Hey! Wait a minute … how did I end up having to dance with the head of the dragon down main street?”

I shrug. So I confused the Melting Pot imagery with Independence Day. It happens.

Ittybit laughs.

“Oh, yeah. That was hilarious.”

“You know what's going to be even more hilarious? … When mom brings it to school so you and your friends can dance with it through the hallways … ”

Ittybit stops laughing.

“But … She recycled it.”

“If by RECYCLE you mean she's out there right now stuffing it into the trunk of the car? Then yes. She's recycling it.”

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