By Trudy Gaba, Curatorial Intern
The Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is China’s biggest and most important holiday. This year, it kicks off on Friday, February 16th and lasts until Sunday Feb. 18th. Today, the current Year of the Rooster will give way to the Year of the Dog. Each new year is marked by the characteristics of one of twelve zodiac animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Those who are fortunate enough to be born in the Year of the Dog are often considered to be loyal, honest, and selfless.
This decorative pottery piece from the Ming Dynasty (14th-17th Century), currently on view in the museum, is commonly referred to as a fu-dog. No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. The fu-dog is not actually a dog at all; it’s an Imperial guardian lion. As popular symbols in Chinese Buddhism, the statues of guardian lions traditionally stood in front of Chinese Imperial palaces, homes, tombs, and temples and were believed to have powerful mythic protective benefits. The fu-dogs are symbolic, protective statues, and they are designed in pairs — one is female, the other is male. The female represents yin, and symbolically protects the people dwelling inside the home, while the male statue, representing yang, protects the structure itself.
Tied to the Chinese lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year is traditionally a time to honour household and heavenly deities as well as ancestors. It is also a time to bring family together for feasting. In preparation for the holiday, houses are thoroughly cleansed to rid the home of any ill-fortunes that may be been collected during the old year. Ritual sacrifices of food and paper coins are also offered to the gods and ancestors. Paper scrolls with lucky messages are also pinned to the windows and gates of homes to bring good fortune and you may on occasion hear a few firecrackers going off, for they are used to frighten way evil spirits. Chinese immigrants brought these old-world traditions and rituals—including Chinese New Year celebrations—to the host country. These old-world rituals served as a link between immigrants and their home countries and created a sense of community in their adopted country.
Want to see more of our collection of Asian objects? Chinese Neolithic jade and archaic ceremonial bronze vessels from the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th Century – 771 BCE) from the permanent collection are also on view in the galleries!