Great Gifts For Your Chinese Zodiac Year (Ben Ming Nian)

Good Fortune Earrings in Copper
Red “good fortune” earrings with a copper backing (from Jean Toh’s Store)

In the US, this Friday (aka Black Friday) kicks off the holiday season. For John and me, that means Christmas all the way through Chinese New Year.

Most years, I’m excited at the prospect of making spiced pumpkin bread or Chinese-style jiaozi, and decorating our home with Christmas tree lights and duilian. This year, though, the holidays — specifically, Chinese New Year — fill me with some trepidation.

Well, even though this is going to date me, here’s the deal — I’m a snake, and 2013 is the year of the snake. That means, in Chinese zodiac terms, 2013 is my benming nian (běnmìngnián, 本命年), the year of my birth zodiac sign.

Red lacy underwear hanging on a doorknob
The number one gift for anyone about to face their Chinese zodiac year? Red underwear. (photo from by Priya Ranganath)

Unfortunately, your benming nian is traditionally considered unlucky, something I have firsthand experience with. During my last benming nian, I moved five times in that year, worked three soul-crushing jobs, and suffered two months under a sadistic roommate. My father came down with a life-threatening condition during his benming nian; my mother, sadly, died during hers.

Fortunately, though, the superstition about your benming nian comes with a so-called solution in the form of gifts. Supposedly, with the right gifts from family and friends, I could breeze through 2013 — and quite possibly have one fantastic year.

With that in mind, I decided to dedicate my usual holiday gifts post to those people on the eve of their own Chinese zodiac year. What should you get them this holiday season? Here are a few ideas:

Continue reading “Great Gifts For Your Chinese Zodiac Year (Ben Ming Nian)”

The Chinese Zodiac Effect

Lit-up red Chinese lanterns
When you live in China, you cannot escape the Chinese zodiac, and the light it shines on everyday life.

My Chinese husband used to be what his mother called nanyang (难养, difficult to raise). But she didn’t turn to any Chinese equivalent of Dr. Spock to solve the problem. She saw a fortune teller.

“The fortune teller said I had a conflict with my father,” John told me. He’s a horse in the Chinese zodiac, and apparently rats — the sign of his father — just don’t get along well with their equine brethren. “So the fortune teller suggested she find a godfather who is a tiger.” That’s a tiger in the Chinese zodiac.

And that explains why a man John refers to as “godfather” shows up at John’s family home for Chinese New Year and other major holidays in China. He may not be blood family, but he’s important to the family harmony.

It’s not the first time I’d experienced the Chinese zodiac at work in daily life in China. Continue reading “The Chinese Zodiac Effect”