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Year of the Horse

Chinese New Year celebrated in Madras

   Ready to shake the turbulent Year of the Snake and gallop into an upbeat Year of the Horse? If so, you're invited to trot over to a free, communitywide Chinese New Year party being thrown Feb. 9, at the senior center by Madras resident Kim Schmith.
   Schmith is the owner of Madras Acupuncture and became familiar with Chinese customs while living and studying several years in Taiwan. The Chinese use a lunar (rather than a solar) calendar with a different animal appointed to each of the 12 years in its cycle.
   The animal signs are attributed to a legend which says Buddha summoned all the animals to come bid him farewell before he departed the earth. Only 12 animals showed up, so Buddha named a year for each of those animals in their honor. The animal rules the year of a person's birth is believed to have a profound influence on their life. It is known as "The animal that hides in your heart," according to a book Schmith will be giving away at her party called "The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes." Since a person's birth animal only comes around every 12 years, Schmith said she has a double reason to party.
   "The Year of the Horse is my year. I'll be 36 and am excited about it being my year. Our country and community has had a really, really hard (past) year, with Sept. 11 happening, all the deaths in Jefferson County, and the community being at loggerheads over so many things. This party is my hope that next year things can be better," Schmith said, noting Chinese New Year officially rolls over on Feb. 12 (a Tuesday), but her party will be on Saturday, Feb. 9, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., to make it easier for people to attend.
   The years of both the Horse and Snake are years of passion, Schmith said, observing the Year of the Snake was a rigid, demanding year. "It's like being in a huge shallow lake, where you can push up from the bottom when you start to drown, but you have to tread water all the time," she said using an analogy.
   The Year of the Horse will be an easier year, since the horse can be stubborn and passionate, but is also cheerful, popular and gregarious.
   All ages are invited to her party which will feature a snake-shaped pinata, carnival-style games like Pin the Tail on the Horse, and Chinese door prizes given away every five minutes.
   Willow Creek Books will help with the event by providing snake- and horse-shaped cookies, and tea, and food will also include Chinese treats and candy.
   Many of the party prizes were specially brought over from Thailand by Schmith's sister Marty and include tea, Chinese lanterns, Oriental calendars, door signs to keep bad luck out, a T-shirt decorated with Chinese characters, fancy chop sticks, shell key chains, ceramic and glass horses, Chinese drums, the Chinese horoscope book and much more.
   At the party Schmith said, "There will be a table to show you what your Chinese animal sign is with explanations on each, and how the Year of the Horse relates to each animal. People love that stuff," she observed. When people leave they will be given a fortune cookie to see what their fortune will be for the new year.
   Relating experiences from her years in Taiwan, Schmith said Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday of the year in many parts of Asia. It does not have a religious significance, other than people offering prayers on New Year's Day to thank their ancestors.
   The holiday is a time to celebrate with family and friends, and close off the last year well as you move into the next. Tying up loose ends will make the coming year full of health, wealth and happiness, the Chinese believe.
   "It's a time to clean house physically, take care of debts, and make amends if you're having problems with anyone," Schmith explained.
   Food is a big part of Chinese New Year at family get togethers and at work. Employers are expected to take their workers out for a formal dinner at a restaurant and present them with a gift.
   Instead of giving gift items, however, the Chinese give "red envelopes," which are gifts of money presented in a colored envelope. This is part of the concept of taking care of your debts, Schmidt said.
   In a family, children receive red envelopes of crisp new bills from their parents, but when they get older they are expected to give red envelopes to others in return. For employers, the envelopes are sort of like giving Christmas bonuses in the U.S.
   "Where I worked the amount was based on your salary and the length of time you had been there. I was there three years and got $700 to $800, Schmith said.
   The receiver is expected to save some of the money, and spend the rest on themselves for things they need such as clothing.
   The third day of the new year is a day when women go to visit their relatives, and the streets are packed with travelers. In the Chinese culture, once a woman marries she becomes part of the husband's family and doesn't get to see her parents and siblings very often.
   Fourteen days after the beginning of the new year a Lantern Festival is held, featuring a parade with Chinese lanterns and other elaborate light displays.
   Schmith said she is hosting the Chinese New Year party as a way of giving back to the community and thanking people for supporting her business. Because she works in health care, she is also concerned about the community being in a slump from events of last year and wants to do something to perk people up.
   Whether or not you take stock in Chinese animal symbols, Schmidt said, "I'm a firm believer that if we believe it's going to be a good year -- it will be a good year."