News Commentary

'Water snake' slithers in

Doreen Yu - The Philippine Star

Tomorrow marks the start of the Year of the Snake, the sixth sign in the Chinese zodiac.

While many people regard the snake with fear and dread – slimy, poisonous and, influenced by the story of creation in Genesis, the embodiment of evil – in many eastern traditions the snake takes on a more mystical character, revered for its wisdom and astuteness, and even for its positive influence on financial matters.

An old saying goes that having a person born in the year of the Snake in the house will keep starvation at bay. Thus this year is generally seen as a time of prosperity, particularly for us in this side of the world.

Chinese families all over the world will gather tonight for what is probably the most important celebration of the year, also referred to as the Spring Festival (Chun Jie). Family members young and old will be together around the family hearth, feasting at the family table laden with the best food coming out of a kitchen that has probably been chopping and slicing and steaming and boiling and frying for days. Houses will be brightly lit, festooned with red décor - all to frighten off the monster Nien, who legend says comes around on New Year’s Eve. The loud firecrackers help scare Nien away, too.

New Year festivities traditionally last for 15 days, during which period children are allowed to go around collecting their hong pao (red packets containing money) from elders. But not only the children, as in Imperial China beggars went around town from the second day of the new year with a picture of the God of Wealth and shouting, “Cai shen dao! Cai shen dao!” - the God of Wealth has come. Families give them gifts of money as reward for bringing good tidings.

The fifth day of the new year is Jie Cai Ceng when the gods of wealth and prosperity come down from heaven, and they are welcomed with appropriate ceremony, particularly by business establishments.

The increasingly prosperous in China will certainly take this tradition very seriously - with apparently good results.

The number of ultra high net worth (UHNW) individuals in China will reach 12,250 this year, with a combined net worth of $1.7 trillion and real estate holdings topping $150 billion, according to Wealth-X, a company based in Singapore which tracks the fortunes of the UHNW.

Spending on luxury goods by these privileged few in China will increase to $7 billion. And the most coveted toy for these big boys? A private jet.

The new year celebration officially ends on the 15th day - Feb. 24 this year - with the Yuan Xiao Jie or Festival of Lanterns, another occasion for a family feast, ending with tang yuan, a dessert of sweet glutinous rice balls, often with a filling of crushed peanuts or black sesame seeds, in soup.

PETA protest

Meanwhile, two members of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), whose bodies were painted to look like snakeskin, yesterday suffered the midday heat of the sun to drum up their campaign against snakeskin products.

PETA members Ashley Fruno, a Canadian and Vera Emrich, a German, carried signboards that read, “Make it the year for the snake: Boycott exotic skins” before the media and passersby in Sta. Cruz, Manila.

PETA campaigner Jana Sevilla said their demonstration was a “fun and prerogative way to send out an important and serious message that snakes have to suffer in order for the fashion industry to produce bags, wallet, shoes and belts made of snakeskin.”

“On the celebration of the Year of the Snake, we want the people to boycott products made of exotic skins,” she said.

She said that some people still have the penchant to purchase products made of snakeskin because they are unaware that in some factory farms for exotic animals, cruel methods are used to remove the skin from the snake.

“By boycotting exotic skins, we are sending the message that animal cruelty is never fashionable,” Sevilla said.

In a related development, the Philippine Postal Corp. (PHLPost) last year issued stamps with two designs intended for the Year of the Snake.

One design is a close-up image of the head of a snake while the second is a full shot of the snake.

The stamp with the snake’s head is sold at P10 each while the full shot can be bought for P30.

PHLPost produced 110,000 pieces of these stamps, with each measuring 40 mm x 30 mm. - With Evelyn Macairan













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