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In East Asia, 2013 is the Year of the Snake, although in China and those countries that still follow Chinese customs the new year doesn’t begin until Feb. 10.
While a snake usually conjures up bad images and is sometimes a symbol of evil in the West, it is not the case in East Asia.

In several ancient cultures, snake worship was a common practice. The ancient Egyptians saw the snake as a symbol of wisdom.

Similarly, to the Chinese of the past and many of the present, the snake is a symbol of good fortune.

Still, the snake is my least liked of the 12 Asian zodiac symbols. I have never liked snakes of any kind anywhere.

In the English-speaking world, “a snake in the grass” is an idiom used for “a sneaky and despised person.”

And “killing snakes” is a metaphor sometimes used to describe energetic effort in getting something done; usually it means going overboard, being a bit overzealous.

In these and other Western expressions, snakes are seen negatively.

In its first edition of the year, The Economist magazine wrote: “So in Tokyo it is already the year of the snake. In the East these animals are associated with good fortune. Japan’s politics being what it is these days, the western meaning may be more suitable.”

That was written in 1989, two cycles ago; some things don’t change much! (I don’t have many positive feelings toward the new Prime Minister of Japan, who was elected in December.)

But it is true, in East Asia the snake is a symbol of good fortune, and those born in the Year of the Snake (for example, those born in 1941, 1953, 1965) are usually kind, vibrant, introspective and refined – or so it is said.

So this is a special year for people born in those years (and there may even be some readers who were born in 1929).

I hope it will be an extraordinary year for all of you born in the Year of the Snake, even if you don’t live in Japan or China.

Who knows, though, what will happen in our world, or in our personal lives, between now and the beginning of next year, the Year of the Horse.

Some of you reading this may no longer be here next year – and neither may the one writing this.

(My daughter Kathy’s father-in-law suddenly passed away recently – just three days after they saw him “hale and hearty” in Louisville; he was several years older than I, but still …)

So perhaps the beginning of the new year is a good time to recall, and to pray, the words of the 1974 hit song that contains these important words:

Yesterday’s gone, Sweet Jesus,
And tomorrow may never be mine.
Lord, help me today,
Show me the way,
One day at a time.

I pray that you will, indeed, have a happy new year, one day at a time.

Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. This column appeared previously on his blog.

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