I am going to be honest with you. 2017 has been the hardest year to explain to my kids. No matter where you turn, there has been some situation or another which has gone completely against everything we are trying to teach them at home. From the need to protest FOR science to discussions on sexual harassment, 2017 has felt like one big screaming match. It was even harder to encourage some celebration in the new year, with the overwhelming feeling of “it’s just a number.” Our only saving grace is the Chinese New Year. If ever there was a way of visualizing a change, it is the action of sweeping out one animal to make way for another. So long, Rooster! Make way for the DOG!
What Is Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year is only the biggest, brightest, and most brilliant of the Chinese festivities! And it’s probably my favorite. The Chinese New Year works around the Lunar calendar (not our westernized Gregorian calendar), so the date for the party changes every year. This year, you can start the celebrations on Friday, February 16.
For those who have no idea what I’m talking about: Chinese tradition believes there are 12 Zodiac animals to watch over each year. Originally, it is said Buddha invited all the animals to be considered for these 12 important positions to help guide and watch over humans. The first 12 to arrive were: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each animal has its own personality traits which influence the year it guards.
Some people take the religious side of it very seriously, with Feng Shui positioning to counter the luck, the right time of day to start a conversation with a conflicting zodiac, and a list of all the things you are allowed to do this year. There are plenty of additional factors as well, such as the element of the year and the animal. I’m not going into all the details here; I am a little more laid back. Sure, I know our zodiac animals (I’m the Sheep, in case you were wondering), but I much prefer to have a bit of fun by giving each year some personality.
What Was the Year of the Fire Rooster All About?
2017 was the Year of the Rooster. In fact, it was the Year of the Fire Rooster, with the fire element adding taking it up an extra level. When you think of a rooster, what are the main traits you think of? For me, I always picture the rooster strutting his stuff all around the farm. This is the animal who thinks he is the next big thing, puffing his chest out, showing all the lady-chickens how healthy and physically fit he is. He likes to be the center of attention, waking us up each morning to tell us. In fact, his confidence continues all day long.
Okay, let’s just focus on applying this to the year. And, in fact, one thing really stands out for me from 2017: #wakeup
2017 felt brash. It felt bold. It felt loud. And as much as there are parts that really irked me, there was also an amazing movement resonating around the world. “Waking up” to the need not just for a change but to be part of the change. It became the year when we finally stood up as a society and said No More.
It wasn’t easy. The year has been filled with constant battles, proving that Justice can and will prevail. And it has been exhausting. Like a Rooster, we can only speak up for so long before we burn out and go to bed. So now is the time for the Rooster to… well, roost. The Dog is ready to come out and play.
What Is the Year of the Earth Dog Going to Bring Me?
Let me be clear, one more time: there is no guarantee in any of this. Ancient Chinese traditions are NOT set in stone. However, it’s hard not be excited about the Year of the Dog when it brings the most adorable traits!
Loyalty! Friendships! Finding your “life path”! Kindness! Empathy! Family! See? All the good stuff! Dogs are also hardworking, recognizing when the serious stuff needs to be done. Of course, as with all things, there is balance with some less-attractive traits: stubbornness and a tendency to fall into pessimism when things don’t stick to the plan. Hey, we all have our bad side, and the Dog’s can at least be managed by those who matter most to them: family and friends. If we can all band together and remind the Dog of their purpose, their confidence will bounce back and we all benefit from the hardworking and caring nature they exude.
How Can I Use This With the Kids?
This is where we can have a bit of fun AND help boost our kids’ confidence in the year ahead.
Sometimes when a year has been pretty rough (like 2017), I like to use a visualization exercise to help the kids shake it off. As my great-grandmother used to say, “You can’t catch any opportunities in the new year if your hands are full with the baggage of last year.” By giving each year the symbol of an animal, we find it much easier to visualize all the experiences and insights.
When I asked the kids to describe 2017 in one word, they all agreed: “It was pretty loud.” At first, I was a little confused. But looking back, I see their point. As the eight-year-old pointed out, everyone was yelling to be heard because they were afraid of being left out. We had those in power devaluing the relevance of groups of people: scientists and climate change; LGBTQI and marriage equality; women and sexual harassment.
2017 was also the year we, as a family, became more active in our protests and social commentary. We were more vocal about the consequences of Palm Oil, we attended the Science March, we spoke up for marriage equality, and I am proud to say our eldest stood up to sexual harassment and gender bias within his own school. As loud as it may have been, the voice of 2017 was raised with a sense of responsibility and urgency. Now was the right time to shine the spotlight on the issues ignored for way too long.
This is how we can bring a year into perspective. “Yes, it was loud, but how else could we be heard? How else could we attract the support of those who can make a difference?” Subsequently, the kids don’t feel so bad about 2017. It wasn’t a bad year, per se. It was a year in desperate need of support.
However, a year of crowing is exhausting. I know many people who have been working hard to make a change, but they simply cannot keep up this level of energy indefinitely. Our 11-year-old is aware of it too; he sees it in the news and hears us talking about it at home. He wonders, what can he do to help without burning out himself?
My answer to him is, to be honest. Think of 2018 as a young puppy, new to the farm we call life. Everything is fresh, positive, and friendly. We still remember what happened in 2017, but none of that is the puppy’s fault. Instead, this puppy is simply looking for a new friend to show it around the place.
Now, if you want the puppy to grow into a good dog, you have to invest some energy into it as well. Be honest with your new friend. Be loyal and commit to helping it be the best year it could possibly be. Focus all of the energy from last year into some constructive positive change; show 2018 how to be better.
Does It Work?
As with any great parenting idea I have, the chances are fair. Our kids respond best to the visual imagery, as do many kids. And none of this detracts from the lessons of responsibility we are trying to teach them; just because it is the Year of the Dog does not mean you can blame it all on the Dog. You are still in control of your actions and reactions, which are far more effective than an animal based on ancient mysterious traditions. You are the Dog’s Owner, not its slave.
No matter what your approach is, every new year celebration is an opportunity to start fresh. If there is only one tradition you stick to for the Chinese New Year, make it this one:
Wish only good luck to everyone, and ask only for their blessings in the new year.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!