The Year of the Dog hardly lived up to its reputation as a year of peace with conflict in the Middle East intensifying, China provocatively shooting down a satellite and genocide in Darfur. But fortune-tellers say things are only going to get worse in the Year of the Pig, which begins today.
Those somber predictions don't seem to be stopping people from celebrating the holiday though.
The start of Lunar New Year sees one-fifth of the world's population readying for a week of celebration and feasting with friends and family. Marked by firecrackers, lanterns, dragon dances and the giving of red envelopes, it is the one time of year in Taiwan when the cities empty with a mass exodus of urbanites to their ancestral homes.
Contemplating what's in store for the New Year is a part of the holiday tradition, and many use the zodiac as a guide, especially when it comes to having children. This year is an especially auspicious year to have children because it's the Year of the Golden Pig.
It is believed children born in the Year of the Golden Pig, which occurs every 60 years, will be honest and straightforward and lead comfortable and wealthy lives.
Famous golden pigs include generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and US senator Hillary Clinton.
But if it's a good year to have children, that's where the auspiciousness ends. Looking back, the last Year of the Golden Pig in 1947 saw the Partition of India, when an estimated 14 million people crossed the borders of the newly formed states and violence claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. The year also marked the beginning of the Cold War.
The Year of the Pig is predicted to be turbulent with increased international conflict, which will lead to regional warfare, uprising and unrest, said Tsai Shang-chi (蔡上機), a fortune-teller in Taipei.
He says the West is the location of negative energy, which will destabilize the global economy while increasing the likelihood of a terrorist act — especially in the US.
Unsurprisingly, the domestic politic scene is predicted to remain tempestuous and chaotic.
But not all is doom and gloom, especially closer to home. Tsai predicts that positive energy will be directed towards Asia and with it increased investment, particularly in China.
"Those wishing to increase their luck [during the Year of the Pig] should prepare by buying red and yellow clothes," he said.
Some pigs are luckier than others. Every year the Tsuhsih Temple (祖師廟) in Sansia (三峽) holds a Pigs of God (神豬) contest for which competitors raise super-fat pigs. The largest pig is ritually slaughtered as an offering to the local god Tsushihyeh (祖師爺).
Begun as a contest between villages, in the past few decades the Pigs of God contest has grown into a commercially driven industry as families vie with each other to show off their wealth and power. Animal rights activists are up in arms over the practice because the pigs are force-fed for a period of 18 months, thereby increasing their weight to a point where they can no longer stand or move.
Though the temple in Sanhsia continues this ritual, other temples have heeded the calls of animal rights groups to stop the practice by substituting rice or dough pigs for live ones.
Bright lights, big city
A less controversial holiday tradition is the Taiwan Lantern Festival, which falls at the end of the New Year vacation. It began as an annual event in 1990 when the Tourism Bureau came up with the idea of staging a national lantern show to coincide with the traditional custom of carrying lanterns on the 15th day of the first lunar month.
Chiayi city has been chosen to host this year's Lantern Festival, the centerpiece of which is an 18m-tall lantern, weighing some two tonnes and standing on an 18-tonne base in the shape of a mountain boar.
The lantern will be lit from 7pm on March 4 until March 11. The festival will also feature 23 fireworks displays, numerous lantern and riddle contests.
Not to be outdone, the Taipei City Government will also hold a lantern festival of its own with a 20m pig lantern as the centerpiece. Dubbed the 2007 Taipei International Lantern Festival, this year's mascot is a time-traveling "Zhucolate" pig, which will educate people on the history and meaning of previous lantern festivals while encouraging people to discover Taipei through his adventures.
The festival begins on Feb. 24 with a "lantern tunnel" that will illuminate Renai Road in the colors of the rainbow, which is meant to symbolize the diversity of the country's capital city. The main lantern exhibition begins on March 3 in the square at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.
Perhaps a counterpoint to the pessimistic predictions made by soothsayers, the large spherical pig that will grace the square is considered lucky as its roundness symbolizes prosperity.
In addition to the displays at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, 16 lanterns representing the qualities of the pig will be on display along Xinyi and Aiguo East roads adjacent to the square.
On the Net:
Details for the Chiayi lantern festival can be found at www.cyhg.gov.tw/english/hotnews/hotnews2.htm; details for the 2007 Taipei International Lantern
Festival can be found at english.taipei.gov.tw
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