On January 28th, the year turned over to 4715, as one of the world’s oldest cultures celebrated the birth of a new year. All across San Francisco and the Bay Area, celebrations rang forth as thousands poured into the street to ring in the Chinese New Year. For some, it was a party, a magical appreciation of a culture both vibrant and ancient. But for many in the Chinese community, it’s a sacred and special time, one of renewal and anticipation. It’s a time of hope.
4715 (roughly correlating with 2017, of course) is, according to the Chinese Zodiac, the Year of the Fire Rooster. One of the characteristics of the Fire Rooster is responsibility at work. Caregivers for older adults can take this idea and imbue their duties with its spirit. After all, there are few professions with more weighted responsibilities than caregiving.
This new year, as we celebrate with all residents of the Bay Area, and especially those in the Chinese community, we’re excited to take the lessons of the year to heart. At Institute on Aging, we’re proud to take part in a beautiful custom that enriches everyone, and want to take this spirit of renewal into our mission, and to that of caregivers. It’s a year of thinking positively, of taking part in activities, and of expanding the world for older adults. It’s a year to explore, and caregivers play a vital role in that.
The Symbolism and Celebration of the Lion Dance
At IOA, we rang in the Chinese New Year with a week-long celebration. One of our most popular activities was, as it is every year, the Lion Dance. Even those readers not intimately familiar with the rich symbolic culture behind the celebrations are familiar with the long, serpentine lion costumes ubiquitous at parades. There are always at least two, and sometimes many, people on the inside, snaking rhythmically along the streets.
As part of our celebration, we rented a snake costume, giving lessons to older adults participating in the festivities. The Lion Dance is a symbol and harbinger of luck, and is meant to promote having an auspicious year. But by participating in the traditional dance, we think the seniors involved were making their own luck by trying something new (well, very old, but, for the most part, new to them).
Being on the inside of a lion isn’t normal habit for most people, so it became a chance to explore a side of themselves they never have before, to take on a new challenge, and to learn. That’s important. Exploring like that keeps both the mind and the body healthy.
Caregivers should take that spirit on, as well, and try to help the older adults in their care carry it throughout the year. Social day programs are a great way to find new and interesting things to do, from hiking to yoga to learning the art of graffiti. Many older adults have started to learn new instruments, shaking off the shackling stereotypes that say youth is the only time to find passions.
The important thing is to find something that’s new, something that makes the mind think in different ways, and sometimes challenges the body. Doing so promotes mental and physical health, and is also wonderful for battling depression, routine, and isolation. It’s not luck: it’s helping your loved one take an active role in their own life.
The Power of Positive Thinking
Another activity at IOA that week was exchanging red envelopes. Traditionally, these contain money, but we wanted something that was more valuable: well-wishes. Participants would write notes of appreciation for each other, or for the staff, letting good feelings bloom and blossom like fireworks illuminating the new year night.
Appreciation and well-wishes are ways to think more positively, which can have an incredible impact on your health, even down to the molecular level. On a larger scale, they create a positive atmosphere, and that’s key to aging well. Having a community where people care about each other, take interest in each other, and recognize each other as individuals is the opposite of dangerous isolation. It’s a reminder that, no matter what age a person is, they can have a rich and full life.
For caregivers, it isn’t about forcing aging loved ones to do anything, but encouraging them to. Helping them have the confidence to break free of stereotypes and expectations, and to know that there are so many other older adults out there who will be warm, welcoming, and who will reinforce that spirit of adventure.
Taking That Spirit of Fire into a New Year
The new year is about good fortune and the chances of prosperity—not just financially, but spiritually. That’s why during our celebration we like to tell traditional stories and legends. Stories are what make us who we are. They are the trellises on which the leaves of our culture wrap around and grow. We take comfort in them, because they are an anchor. We find in them the fortune of those who came before, and who can transmit the legends.
In doing so, we know we’re part of that story. We are part of that history. And every day we are alive is another chance to make that history grow, and to add our own small and important tale to the book. For caregivers in the Year of the Fire Rooster, this is a chance to help your loved one keep writing their story. The book isn’t closed. The final chapters lay blank like a fallen snow, a clean slate on which to write an unknown and exciting future.
The oldest and most important traditions aren’t the costumes we wear, or even the year we celebrate, but the unity of the human spirit. And the Fire Rooster can help the older adult in your life wake up fully to that possibility.
Institute on Aging offers a wide range of programs, services, and online resources to help older adults and their caregivers live independently, with dignity and adventure. Get in touch with us today to learn more.