Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Year of the . . . Whatever!

800px-Chinese_new_year_singapore_2015One amusing aspect of Chinese New Year 2015 is the lack of consensus over which zodiac animal is being celebrated.

Is it the Year of the Sheep?

The Year of the Goat?

The Year of the Mountain Gazelle?

Ambiguity over the meaning of the Mandarin word “yang,” which can apply to goats, sheep, or any other hooved, grass-eating animal that bleats, is apparently responsible for the confusion. However, most Chinese seem unfazed by the distinction, accepting either animal as a symbol of plenitude and good fortune as well as dismissing the idea that a child born in a Sheep (or Goat) year will be meek, mild, and lacking in drive–a follower, not a leader. (I don’t subscribe to that belief either–one of my close friends was born in such a year, and she’s successful and highly motivated!)

So choose your beastie, and a very Happy New Year to Ewe! Or should that be Happy  New Year, Kid? Or Happy New Year, Deer?

In any case, have a great one!



Wuthering Hearts: Brontës and Valentines

250px-The_Brontë_Sisters_by_Patrick_Branwell_Brontë_restoredOne of my favorite Valentine’s Day stories centers on the Brontë sisters. So much tragedy surrounds the brief lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne that it’s a pleasant change of pace to read about the good things that happened to them. One of which was their friendship with William Weightman, their father’s charming young curate. (Many speculate that at least one of the sisters was secretly in love with him.)

weightmnAlthough Weightman succumbed to a cholera epidemic in 1842, he brightened the Brontës’ lives during his time in Haworth. One of the nicest things he did was to send Valentines to the sisters and their friend Ellen Nussey, on hearing that none of them had ever received one. Weightman even walked ten miles to Bradford to post them anonymously, though the girls soon discovered the ruse–and returned the favor by writing their benefactor the following poem:

‘A Rowland for your Oliver˛ˇ

We think you’ve justly earned;
You sent us each a valentine,
Your gift is now returned.
We cannot write or talk like you;
We’re plain folks every one;
You’ve played a clever trick on us,
We thank you for the fun.
Believe us when we frankly say
(Our words, though blunt are true),
At home, abroad, by night or day,
We all wish well to you.
And never may a cloud come o’er
The sunshine of your mind;
Kind friends, warm hearts, and happy hours,
Through life we trust you’ll find.
Where’er you go, however far
In future years you stray,
There shall not want our earnest prayer
To speed you on your way. . .

Victorian Valentine: The message reads "My Dearest Miss, I Send Thee a Kiss"
Victorian Valentine: The message reads “My Dearest Miss, I Send Thee a Kiss”

So while Valentine’s Day has come to be associated mainly with couples, other kinds of love are also worth celebrating on February 14. Whether single or attached, no one is ever the worse for being loved.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Candlemas!

candlemasMost of us today probably associate February 2 with Groundhog Day. But the date is also associated with the ancient holiday of Candlemas, marking the purification of the Virgin Mary. For some, Candlemas also marks the true end of the Christmas holidays, when the Christmas decorations and greenery would be taken down and plants more appropriate to the season set in their place. So those of us who left our Christmas trees up late this year? Can rest easy in the knowledge that we’re in good company!

Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve

Down with the rosemary and bays,
           Down with the mistletoe ;
       Instead of holly, now up-raise
           The greener box (for show).

       The holly hitherto did sway ;
           Let box now domineer
       Until the dancing Easter day,
           Or Easter’s eve appear.

       Then youthful box which now hath grace
           Your houses to renew ;
       Grown old, surrender must his place
           Unto the crisped yew.

       When yew is out, then birch comes in,
           And many flowers beside ;
       Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
           To honour Whitsuntide.

       Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
           With cooler oaken boughs,
       Come in for comely ornaments
           To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift ; each thing his turn does hold ;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

–Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Happy St. Lucy’s Day

This isn’t exactly a jolly holiday poem, but it is a beautiful one, in its melancholy way, written the year that Donne lost two important Lucys in his life: a good friend and his eighteen-year-old daughter. St. Lucy’s Day seemed to hold a particular significance for him ever after: he composed his will on that day, three years later.But if St. Lucy’s Day was sad for Donne, it doesn’t have to be for everyone else. Most often, the day is celebrated–especially in Scandinavia and Italy–as a festival of light. In Norway and Sweden, young girls would dress as Lucy in white gowns sashed with red and a crown of candles on their heads. On December 13, the girls would rouse their families with song, then serve them coffee and saffron buns made just for the occasion. (I just hope the buns were good enough to compensate for being awakened that early in the morning!)

Happy St. Lucy’s Day!

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being The Shortest Day


‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest;
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.

–John Donne (1572-1631)