Opinion: Why I’m adopting a daily pair of red underwear this year | CNN

Editor’s note: vanessa hua is the author of the novel “Forbidden City,” and of “Deception and other possibilities” Y “a river of stars.” She is a former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written for many publications on Asia and the diaspora. The opinions expressed here are my own. read more opinion on CNN.


By tradition, on Lunar New Year, you are supposed to dress in new clothes, from inner to outer layers. If they are an auspicious red, all the better. You can never be too lucky.

But when you turn a multiple of 12 (24, 36, 48, 60, etc.), the ritual continues: red underwear every day of that lunar calendar year.

When I first heard about the practice a few years ago, I dismissed it as nonsense. I also found it extravagant to buy so many pairs in one bright color under light clothing. My pragmatic Chinese immigrant parents, engineers and scientists, did not pass this tradition on to their children.

In the eastern suburbs of San Francisco, our family feasted on symbolic foods such as noodles for long life and a whole fish for abundance, and elders handed out bright red envelopes filled with crisp new bills. We cut our hair and clean the house, sweeping away the old and making way for prosperity like millions around the world.

Adding another superstition seemed like a nuisance he could do without. But as I approach my fourth turn of the wheel for the “Year of the Rabbit,” which dawns on Sunday, in what’s known as “ben ming nian,” or the threshold year, I’ve been reflecting on the milestones of those years. past intervals: puberty at 12, moving across the country looking for work at 24, and giving birth to my twin sons at 36.

Famous rabbits include soccer phenom Lionel Messi, actress Kate Winslet, and director Quentin Tarantino. Your sign is based on the date and year you were born, with 12 lunar zodiac animals that rotate in a cycle.

In what is shaping up to be another year of uncertainty, transition and change, compounded by worries about an impending recession, a lingering pandemic and anti-Asian hatred, talismans take on greater urgency. Heaven and earth have been turned upside down, and to protect my family, I want all the help I can get.

According to Google Trends, searches for “Chinese New Year red underwear” tend to spike in the weeks leading up to the holiday. It is one of the most important celebrations in China, Vietnam (like Tết), South and North Korea (like Seollal), Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the entire Asian diaspora.

In time for the new year, a subsidiary of China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba is offering a huge selection of granny briefs and high-waisted red briefs embellished with gold characters for luck and wealth. Shopee, an online retailer in Southeast Asia and Taiwan, sells boxer shorts featuring a smiling rabbit, dressed in traditional robes and surrounded by gold bars.

People pose for photos with a staff member dressed as a red rabbit at a market on January 13 in Shijiazhuang, China.

The gods get so distracted by red that they forget to punish you, explained Chinese-American astrologer Alice Sparkly Kat.

The more I analyze the practice, the more I realize the extent of its popularity.

On Twitter, Enna Alouette, a virtual YouTuber, recently order advice for a relative born in the year of the rabbit.

Her fans enthusiastically recommended wearing red underwear, socks, and string bracelets. “At my house, people need to wear red underwear year-round,” one wrote. Another added: “I’m not a big fan of red underwear. But my mom always insisted that she wear it.”

Posts on Facebook, TikTok, Reddit and elsewhere on social media reference this ritual across the diaspora.

Truly, if you choose any year of your life, you can surely find moments of grace and adversity. In the last few weeks—before the rabbit came out of its hole—a dental crown fell out of my mouth and thieves took my car’s catalytic converter, proof that mishaps can happen at any time.

And yet, after breaking off an engagement at 24 and suffering profound misfortune at 36, author Christine H. Lee decided to wear a daily pair of red underwear at age 48, in 2021.

People shop at a fair held for the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year on January 14 in Chinatown in San Francisco's Chinatown.

“Every day that I put them on reminded me of the sensitivity of that year; I heard it can be bad, but it can also bring resolution,” said Lee, the Korean-American author of the memoir “Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember.” “Putting them on made me do a short meditation every day and made me feel empowered.”

Compared to the usual New Year’s resolutions (exercise more, eat healthier), this appeals to me because it focuses on what I can control while acknowledging what I can’t.

The Eastern and Western conceptions of the 12-year cycle, while both based on the length of Jupiter’s orbit around the sun, differ, Sparkly Kat said.

In the lunar zodiac, you take precautions every twelve years. “It’s a disastrous year if you don’t control yourself and hide from power,” said the author of “Postcolonial Astrology: Reading the Planets Through Capital, Power, and Labor.”

By contrast, the “Jupiter Return” of Western astrology is a time of transition at different stages of life. “A feeling of growth spurt,” said Sparkly Kat. “You are getting bigger. It can be disorienting when you’re in the middle.”

As an American-born Chinese, I have always embraced and adapted what resonates from the diaspora and my birthplace.

On the cusp of turning 48, Joanne Kwong, president of the venerable Pearl River Mart in New York City, told me she feels more confident than ever, ready to take on whatever comes her way. Me too.

Still, the bunny plans to dress in red underwear, which her store will sell in addition to red socks, belts, bracelets, earrings, nail polish, and other Christmas trinkets.

“At this point in my life, I’m a little bit more superstitious,” said Kwong, who is a Chinese-American. “It doesn’t hurt, and it’s wonderful to hold on to your culture. And the underwear thing is fun and festive.”

Many in Italy and Spain might agree: on December 31, believers don red underwear for luck and love in the coming year.

I’m glad to see that marking time and setting intentions with ritual transcends cultures and borders.

Logically I know that it won’t matter if I wear red or not, but we live in times that are often at odds with reason. For me, for now, this shared tradition is empowering, connecting me with the diaspora. (Though on a baffling technicality, you’re not supposed to buy underwear yourself, so a friend and hubby provided me with several styles, in solids, stripes, and heart-shaped polka dots.)

My twin sons, who were also born under the sign of the rabbit, are turning 12 this year. What they choose to take from their inheritance is up to them. Together, we are on the same journey of cyclical change.

Too often, life rushes into the scramble to catch the school bus or the rush to meet deadlines at work. Days turn into weeks, months, years, and suddenly a dozen years pass. My newborns have turned into tweens and I have transformed from not being middle aged to now so much more.

With the Lunar New Year turning around, I value the opportunity to reflect on my past struggles and how I found a way to move forward.

It’s a mindset we could all benefit from in 2023.


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