New Year’s Resolution

With the beginning of 2017, of course I also thought about New Year’s resolutions as so many others do, and getting fit is always pretty high on any list of resolutions. But I know myself well enough to know that these resolutions have a a tendency to fizzle out before too long, so I see no sense in getting stuck with a long-term, pricey membership contract with a gym. Indeed, plenty of memes and articles have made the rounds on social media based on the same idea in the last few days; one that in particular spoke to me was a fake offer for one to two training sessions and four photos of the new member working out on social media. Here is another meme that entertained me:

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Meme found on Tumbler

I have avoided the temptation to sign up for a gym so far, but I could not resist an original vinyl record of Jane Fonda’s 1981 workout record in a local thrift-store ( and with a two-dollar price tag also much cheaper than a gym membership). I mean – it is Jane Fonda, THE original workout maven! The VHS tape that followed and was based on her book and this record is the top selling VHS tape of all time according to several online sites. The record has a cheesy 8os sound track so that alone makes it entertaining; and the cover design is hilarious. I do not think even the thrift-store sold a pair of those 80s legwarmers and the high-cut leotard with matching belt.

Jane Fona Record

Album Cover of Jane Fonda’s 1981 Workout Record

Even if I stop the workout regime based on the record in a few weeks (which is very likely based on previous new year’s resolutions), I still have the entertainment factor, so I call this a good buy. If you are interested in the original video workout, browse YouTube (see example here).

The record is also an important piece of Americana, artifacts related to the cultural heritage of the U.S. It might not seem worthy of this label to some, but when I think 80s and U.S., Jane Fonda and aerobics always come to mind.

Tree and Record

Christmas Decorations and Workout Record

So here is to a great year ahead; may you stick to you resolutions or at least be entertained by your pursuit of your goals.

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Rose Parade

The Rose Parade in Pasadena, California on New Year’s Day is over a century old and is usually shown on American TV. 2016 marked the 127th year of the parade. All floats have to include only natural materials such as flowers, seeds, and grasses and most floats take a year to construct by mostly professional float-building companies. Seeing the parade live though provides a lot more behind-the-scene details and close-ups than ever shown on TV, and this year I had a chance to see the parade live.

What I did not realize was that people actually reserve spaces on the sidewalks along the over five-mile long parade route 24 hours before the parade starts at 8 in the morning on New Year’s Day. Plenty of people camp out over night just to ensure the best spots to view the parade.

 

Some people were really settling in for the night:

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We went the more traditional route and put chairs out the day before but hoped they would still be there in the morning even if we did not spend the night. Another option was to spend money on grandstand tickets.

 

And it worked! Our chairs were right there in the front row waiting for us. Someone actually moved them even closer to the line during the night, so we sat so close that I was worried some of the members of the larger bands would actually trip over our feet.

There were so many large bands:

The floats were even more impressive close up than on TV since it was really obvious how many flowers were on these large constructions:

My favorite floats were the the ones with strong colors that popped against the bright blue sky and seemed to vibrate in the sun:

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Downton Abbey Float – Public Broadcasting Company

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“Treasure Life’s Journey” from Donate Life – all people on the flat actually received donated organs

Other details that the TV broadcast usually does not show is that many floats that are very high actually have to lower some of their parts to fit under the freeway and some of the floats break down and have to be pulled by a tow truck, which also leads to some delays towards the end of the long route:

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The large tower in the back had to be lowered to fit under a freeway.

Another detail is that the poop-scoopers walking behind the groups of horses in the parade actually get more applause than the bands and floats (I forgot to take a picture of them though – they are dressed in white and push a garbage can for the over five-mile walk). The parade is unique and more exciting in person than on TV even though it does take hours; this year’s parade featured 95 different participants: floats, marching bands, and horse groups. It is a New Year’s tradition just as the New Year’s Concert of Strauss waltzes in Vienna is an Austrian New Year’s tradition.

And there was even room for some political comments during the parade:

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Sky writing during the parade

Happy Lunar New Year – Tet

Lion dancers at a New Year's Parade in San Francisco in a previous year

Lion dancers at a New Year’s Parade in San Francisco in a previous year

On the evening of February 18, 2015, many in California (and around the world) are counting down to the beginning of the new lunar year. Since I have so many Vietnamese students in my classes, I have become very familiar with Tet – the Vietnamese new year celebrations. This year, Tet is on February 19, and I like the idea of a new year’s celebration in mid-February rather than December 31. It actually feels right to celebrate the beginning of a new year now rather than on the last day of December.

First, December is already a busy month. There are plenty of Austrian traditional holidays that need to be celebrated, such as December 5 (Krampus Day) and December 6 (St. Nickolaus Day) – see previous blog posts (Krampus Day and St. Nickolaus). Then, there are the Christmas holidays. It seems odd to have another large celebration/holiday in the same month, especially since per Austrian tradition, January 6 is also a holiday. New Year’s Day on January 1 seems to become nearly lost amongst all the other holidays. By the time mid-February comes around, I could use another large holiday/celebration, so the lunar new year is actually in perfect time.

Blossoms and Oranges

Blossoms and Oranges

Second, a new year symbolizes new beginnings and in Northern California, nature clearly displays new beginnings in mid-February. I understand that this most likely is not the case in the Midwest and on the East Coast, but here most fruit trees are blooming, the daffodils are out in all their glory, and I have already sown my peas and planted lettuce outside – no greenhouses needed. The new year also goes well with the major spring cleaning that is encouraged by the balmy 70 degrees. It stays light longer and in general everyone seems to be ready to spend more time outside – new beginnings. However, the end of December does not feel like renewal in any way – it still gets dark very early, no one wants to plant anything outside, and plenty of rain and mud do not encourage any major spring cleaning.

Almond trees in Capay Valley, CA

Almond trees in Capay Valley, CA in February

Third, the celebrations (especially for Tet) include many traditions that are usually divided amongst several American holidays, so this holiday seems to go all out and have it all: firecrackers, decorated graves, decorated trees, ornaments around the house, ghosts in the streets, parades, large meals/family feasts, new clothes. Whatever you like most about your favorite American holiday seems to exist on this day as well.

Decorations for Tet (found on: http://commons.wikimedia.org)

So the longer I live here and am around the lunar new year celebrations, the more this holiday makes sense. Tet falls on the same day as the Chinese new year. I like that it lasts for three days and each day is dedicated to a special group: the first day is reserved for close family, the second day for close friends, and the third day is for teachers. I am always amazed that teachers are held in such high regards that they get their own day  as part of this holiday. According to Vietnamese students I have met, people visit their former teachers to thank them on this day. Tet also means plenty of cleaning and completing tasks before the new year. There is luck money in red envelopes for children and there is betting (no traditional American holiday I know of includes gambling games). And of course there are special dishes for the new year. Many of the students mention bánh chưng – square cake (rice, mung bean, and pork wrapped in leaves).

Square Cakes – Traditional Dish for Tet (found on: http://www.vietnamonline.com)

So as the year of the sheep begins (or goat or ram – this confusion only exists in translations; learn more about it here if you are interested: http://nyti.ms/1G1Huei ), may the new year bring you all you are hoping for.

Vạn sự như ý – May all wishes come true!