Reign in the Dragon

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By April M. Brown

While millions of Americans have moved into the recovery phase of their holiday season, Jan. 23 marks the beginning of a festive time in Chinese culture. It would be easy to compare the holiday to the Christmas holiday of the Western world but, although there are many similarities, it is a celebration steeped in tradition, folklore and optimism.
Commonly referred to as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, the Chinese New Year is a time to celebrate warmer days with friends and family — a time of renewal, prosperity and good health for the year to come.
The dark moon of Jan. 23 reigns in the Year of the Dragon — year 4017 in the Chinese calendar.  Festivities begin on the second new moon after Winter Solstice, continuing for 15 days — varying the date from year to year.
According to tradition, the Dragon years encourage growth, change and limitless possibilities. This is an exceptional time represented by a creature of utmost importance in Chinese culture — the only legendary creature in the zodiac. Those who are born under the sign of the Dragon are said to be powerful, independent and creative. It’s a sign generally associated with royalty in Chinese culture.
Mythology and folklore play a big part in interpreting the celebration. The traditional use of the color red, in addition to firecrackers and bonfires, all stem from the tale of an ancient creature called Nian.
At the end of each year, Nian would arrive in the village, gobbling up livestock and villagers — especially children — eventually forcing frightened villagers to leave food offerings at their doorsteps to appease him.
Years of turmoil ended after the villagers discovered the monster’s weaknesses, notably children in red attire, loud noises and bright lights. Subsequently, the villagers began surrounding entrances with red lanterns while employing bursts of firecrackers and late night fires to fend the beast away.
Today, however, Chinese New Year is a time for sharing meals and good cheer with friends and family. The holiday marks the largest annual movement of people in the world, with millions of Chinese traveling for days, mostly by train, to reach family celebrations.
Numerous festivals also occur throughout the U.S. where millions of Chinese-Americans celebrate their heritage. Across the nation, dances, parades and gatherings offer a taste of Chinese culture for many in the Western world.   
Locally, Los Alamos resident Li Liu, known in the community as Dr. Lee, hosts a Chinese New Year celebration each year, giving locals the opportunity to learn more about Chinese culture, traditions and foods, focusing primarily on the benefits of Oriental medicine.
As a child, Lee explained, Chinese New Year meant new clothes and gifts of red envelopes filled with money. It was a time of sharing meals of rice dumplings filled with sugar and wearing the traditional color of red.
Raised in Beijing, Lee has much to share regarding her experiences in both China and the United States. She attended kindergarten in Beihai Park near the picturesque Nine-Dragon Wall, moving to the U.S. 21 years ago to pursue the American dream. She now considers herself truly American, boasting a son who is currently serving as an electrical engineer in the U.S. Navy.
Common for those born under the sign of the Dragon, Lee became interested in pursuing medicine. She began her Santa Fe practice in 1995, opening an additional office in Los Alamos in 2004. She now exclusively practices in Los Alamos where she continues to share her knowledge of Chinese therapies with the local community.
Lee now runs a medical practice, faithfully holding a Chinese New Year celebration every year.  To her, Chinese New Year now represents the opportunity to begin a healthier life, which is the main focus of her celebrations — to educate the public on behaviors that will improve health naturally.
Join Lee in celebrating the Year of the Dragon from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday at the Los Alamos  Chamber of Commerce. She will serve traditional Chinese New Year cuisine while providing information on how traditional Chinese medicine can improve overall health.
The year of the Dragon is said to offer exciting opportunities, wealth and prosperity to all, rich or poor, provided that one has properly prepared So, wrap up loose ends and pay-off old debts in order to provide a clear foundation for a happy, healthy and wealthy year to come.