Welcoming the Year of the Dog

Last Saturday night, a group of us got together to celebrate the arrival of the lunar new with a good old-fashioned Chinese banquet. We gathered at 5:30 p.m. at our favourite Chinese eatery, a spacious dining room with red and gold veined wallpaper, crisp white tablecloths, and voluminous paper lanterns hanging from the ceilings.

From the second floor vantage point of the dining room, as we sipped our Chinese green tea, we watched the last dull red glow of the sunset fade away and the lights of the city forming constellations. As the room began to fill up with arriving diners, we began to reflect on the riches and abundance within our own lives.

Leaving it up to our savvy Chinese friends to do the culinary decision-making, we dined on things such as delectable steamed rock cod (symbolizing abundance), long chow mein noodles (for long life), plump and perfectly cooked oysters (for good fortune and prosperity in business dealings), and Chinese broccoli (a token for good health for our parents).

Throughout the evening, there was no music in the room, just the clatter of cutlery and joyful noise of conversation and laughter. At the end of the meal, our waiter brought a silver tray bearing a fortune cookie for each of us (actually, a western addition to the Chinese meal experience, one that began several decades ago in San Francisco). When our daughter broke open her cookie, the message read, “You have a great capacity to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.” I thought to myself, if there is only one thing that I could teach her, there could be no better lesson than that.

I love the way the Chinese traditionally greet the arrival of the New Year. Not with a wall of noise and drunken debauchery, but instead with a gathering of friends and family over a sumptuous feast. It is a way of physically and symbolically paying tribute to the cornucopia of riches that constitute the best that life has to offer. At this point in the year, right after the excesses of the Western holiday season, so many of us are feeling a dampening of the spirits brought on by the arrival of Visa bills, colds and flus, ominous politics, and the lingering effects of ill weather.

It is perhaps appropriate, with so many wolves gathering at the door, that this is the Year of the Dog. It is especially important at this time, then, to bring some true heartfelt celebration into our lives. We may be in for a rocky ride throughout the rest of this year, but as J.R.R. Tolkien once pointed out, it is always best to begin any journey in a pleasurable way, even if you suspect it won’t end very well.