Happy New Year of the Sheep.
The Chinese animal zodiac rotates in a 12-year cycle. Legend has it that the 12 animals were placed at the edge of a river and told by the gods to race across. Ox, the leader, was unaware that the rat had hitched a ride. The sly rat jumped off, becoming the first to cross the river, and therefore the leader of the Chinese calendar. The pig, being the laziest of the animals, was the last to make it across and falls at the tail end of the 12-year cycle.
The sheep falls somewhere in the middle. People born in this year are creative, well organized, wise and compassionate.
The Chinese greet the new year this weekend, and we've got gifts to help celebrate. Try to get out of the Western how-can-we-party-hard sensibility. Think more in terms of old Chinese customs.
The burning of incense (1, Spirit of Asia, 222 Spadina, unit 143, $1.99/package) gives thanks for the new year and asks for good things for families and friends. Light a Chinese lantern (2, Spirit of Asia, $6.99) like this one displaying happiness characters.
In the hopes that the year is sweet, give sugar nuggets such as dried fruit boxes (3, Golden Coast Enterprises, Dragon City, 280 Spadina, unit T, 416-351-9889, $2.99), lucky candy (4, Golden Coast, $1.50) or this circular candy and fruit box whose shape is said to bring good fortune (5, Fu Yao Supermarket, 639-643 Gerrard East, 416-778-1920).
The Chinese hang decorative pieces on their doors, hoping and wishing that the new year brings wealth and happiness (6, Tseun Tai Hong Co., 651 Gerrard East, 416-778-9196, 5 cents-$3.50). These are often placed on either side of the door frame or across the door jamb, since doors are generally left open in China.
Set off fire crackers to scare away the demons. The character "fook" at the tip means "lots of luck and blessings" (7, Spirit of Asia, $3.99). These banners (8, Spirit of Asia, 3 for $1), decorated with symbols of wealth in characters always written in black or gold ink on red paper, hang in doorways.
A fold-out good-wishes card (9, Midoco, 555 Bloor West, 415-588-9253, and others, $2.69) sends greetings. Lucky money envelopes are given to friends (10, Spirit of Asia, $1). Mandarin oranges signify gold, while fruit means lively living (11, Fu Yao Supermarket, $2.99/pound). Be sure to check out your horoscope (12, Pages, 256 Queen West, 416-598-1447, $17.50), brush up on Chinese astrology (13, Pages, $11.95) or find out your love compatibility with others (14, Pages, $30.95).
Happy New Year.
With files from Emma Medeiros, Mollie Wilkins and Jen Chan