Monday, 23 January 2012

The year of the dragon

Most people in my real and virtual social networks probably know that it is the Chinese New Year and that it is the year of the dragon. Whether you attach this fact any significance is as much your personal issue as the Zodiac signs. The year is significant for me since it completes the Big Year, the cycle of five times twelve years and returns to the starting point of the lunar calendar.

I know about the Chinese calendar from my mother who is an Oriental scholar. Like all expressions of faith, myth, superstition and other practices incompatible with the Only True Communist Doctrine, the Chinese calendar was forbidden. Somehow people would still find out when the new year started and which sign it was. We calculated who was born under which sign and what it meant, and who was best compatible with whom. Since you couldn't easily find votive pictures or figurines, we made them ourselves and gave each other as gifts. I had - and still have - a clay dragon whom I decorated with jewelry and fed from a tiny bowl of rice. I worshipped my dragon every year, but each year had its own animal who received their own tributes. I cannot say it gave the whole business a special thrill just because it was forbidden, but it was certainly less trivial when you couldn't easily get all information from a weekly magazine. I remember I was anxious when I was a couple of days overdue with my first child and he was born a Mouse. I don't think it has affected him that much.

Yet I lost track of the Chinese years when I moved to Sweden, just as I lost interest in many other forbidden and half-forbidden things. Also, to celebrate Chinese new year is only satisfactory if it's shared. It just so happened that I had no one to share it with. So my third and fourth Dragon years passed unnoticed. I bought a wonderful little jade dragon in China, and I always have it on my dressing table, but not until recently did I realise that my Big Year is coming to an end.

Reflections on age are always profound. I remember explaining the Chinese calendar to an aunt; I was perhaps seventeen. I said: "You are sixty, so it means..." She wasn't pleased to be reminded of her age. For me at that time, sixty was equal to eternity.

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