By Elizabeth Ladzinski
CHINATOWN — The Chinese Lunar New Year kicks off Thursday, putting an end to 2010's rough-and-tumble Year of the Tiger and bringing in 2011's more docile Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese zodiac.
The new year should bring peace, as well as respite from the beastly economic ups and downs of 2010, according to a pair of Chinese zodiac experts.
Manhattanites can boost their luck in the new year by wearing new red clothes on Feb. 3.
"You have to not only just wear red … you have to buy new red pants, or even underpants," said Joanna Lee, who co-wrote the “Pocket Chinese Almanac” with her husband Ken Smith. "Apparently, wearing red on the first day of the new year means that you're going to be lucky for the rest of that new year."
According to the Chinese zodiac, each year corresponds to one of 12 different animals: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog or Pig.
As the animal-years cycle around, according to the zodiac, each one brings different characteristics to the year, and to any person born during that year. The year of the Tiger, 2010, was a difficult year for many, but especially people who were born in a Tiger year, Chinese zodiac experts said. That means this year, anyone born in a Year of the Rabbit will have a slightly more stressful year than others.
Lee and Smith are both followers of the almanac, and while they do not perform detailed zodiac predictions themselves — they say those are reserved for geomancers, who practice a form of divination — they said the almanac contains many practical predictions.
For example, according to the almanac, Feb. 1 was a good day for, "rituals, asking for blessing, starting studies, cleaning house, placing doors, renovating kitchens, building stoves and digging ditches." It was a bad day for "hairdressing and weddings."
The almanac has been used for thousands of years in China and Taiwan, and although Lee and Smith are not the first to translate it to English, they have produced the almanac specifically as a gift to the Museum of Chinese in America, where the Pocket Almanac is sold.
The Chinese almanac is similar to Western almanacs in that it gives information about the best days for harvesting, planting and cultivating crops. But the Chinese almanac goes one step further by predicting what days and times are best for performing certain activities: everything from when to get a haircut to when to collect money.
Traditionally, followers of the almanac also pick up "New Year Pictures," a form of folk art that is hung in homes to protect families from evil spirits. Tai Liping, the folk artist chosen by Lee and Smith to provide illustrations for the almanac, is a nationally-known artist in China whose family has been creating wood-block New Year carvings for over 500 years.
The almanac includes warnings of what spirits are out to help or hurt people on any given day, giving readers a chance to protect themselves by hanging up artistic depictions of Chinese gods in their homes, Lee said.
"By the time people go out and pick up their almanac and they find out what the year has in store, they'll find out what their particular dangers are that year, and what spirits are out to get them," Smith said.
The Pocket Chinese Almanac is available for sale at the Museum of Chinese in America, located at 215 Centre Street.