The other day I was talking to a Chinese friend about my poor health this year, and she made an off-hand comment about wearing red underwear which I didn’t really register.
Then during my Mandarin lesson yesterday my teacher, Annie, started a conversation about the twelve year cycle which we Westerners tend to refer to as the ‘Chinese Zodiac’, and she too mentioned red underwear.
I have finally found out what Liu Xin and Annie meant.
According to Chinese astrology there is a twelve year lunar cycle which is represented by twelve animals in the following order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.
The particular year runs from the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) until the following Spring Festival. You belong to the animal year in which you were born, so you could be a horse, a rat, or a snake depending on the year of your birth. Each animal year is repeated every 12th year.
When Annie was explaining this to me we started discussing which year we both were and I said I was a Tiger, and this year happens to be the Year of the Tiger – it is the 5th year of the tiger following my birth (from which you can work out my age!).
Recurrences of your birth year, when you turn 12, 24, 36 etc are called ‘benming nian’ and are thought to carry many possible dangers for you, so for the whole of that year you should ward off any troubles by wearing red clothing every single day. And the easiest way of wearing red everyday is to wear red underwear.
Oh dear! nobody warned me about this, and I’ve been going around all year wearing every colour of the rainbow – mostly white if I’m honest – and I don’t have any lucky red undies. No wonder my body has been plagued with problems.
From February next year it will be the Year of the Rabbit – so all you rabbits out there, do what I’m about to do, go out and buy yourself a stock of red knickers…I hope that will redeem the final few months of my Tiger year.
By the way, you may be amused to learn that whilst I am a Tiger, my daughter is a Rooster and my son is a Horse, my husband is definitely a Pig!