photo: Creative Commons (Aseamlessbonds)

As I think most of you know well, Unitarian Universalists believe there is so much to learn from cultures and religions from all around the world. And today I’m particularly inspired by the Chinese culture. You see, today is Chinese New Year. And the way the Chinese people keep track of their years is pretty special and interesting and fun for us. They name each year after an animal. There are 12 animals, and each one goes with a year for 12 years, and then the cycle of animals repeats itself. So have any of you heard what animal goes with the new year this year? [See who knows it’s the year of the snake.]

Yes, it’s the year of the snake. Now, lots of people, myself included, believe that animals, too, have a lot to teach us. In fact, animals can help us understand different kinds of ideas. Some animals symbolize- or stand for – ideas, and it makes those ideas easier to understand. For example, the snake helps people to think about a lot of things, but in particular, the snake stands for change, for transformation.  And I brought in something to help you see why.

[Pull out box with snakeskin inside.] This does not have a live snake inside! [Open up box.] This is a snakeskin. Snakes can only grow – and growth is a form of change – they can only grow if they shed their skins. And this is the skin of a ratsnake which was shed and left behind by a growing, living snake. Is there an adult who can help pass this around so children can see it? You may touch it too, gently please. And remember to wash your hands afterwards. See if you can identify the head end and the tail end.

While the children are looking at the snakeskin, I invite you all – children and adults – to think about something in your life which might be ready for change, for transformation. And maybe instead of a personal change, you can think of a change in a social group, perhaps a change in your family, or at your school. Some of you might think about change here at First UU. What change might be almost ready to take place?

And as you think about that, I’m going to describe the process of how a snake sheds its skin. You see, first it has a feeling of readiness. This is because the new layer of skin underneath is ready. Ready for air, for light… ready for prime time! And when it gets this feeling, it needs to go find a safe place to shed that old skin. And it also needs to find something rough, like a rock or a piece of bark. It rubs its head against that rough thing, because the skin around the head is the first part to come loose. [Crane your neck and wiggle your head and invite everyone to join you as if they were snakes.] The skin first comes loose around the snake’s snout and mouth, and then the snake keeps moving and begins to slither out of its old skin, still rubbing against that rough thing to catch the old skin and pull it off. And as the skin begins to peel off, it actually turns inside out! [Keep twisting and wiggling and encouraging the congregation to join you.] It takes some time for the snake to move out of that old skin. The snake has to keep slithering and twisting and finally…[Wiggle your bottom and invite them to, too.] the snake pulls its tail free of the old skin, leaving it behind. It is transformed and free to move about in its fresh, new skin.

And there’s one more thing to know about snakes. They continue to grow their whole lives. Even when they become adults, unlike humans, they continue to get larger and longer. This of course means that they keep having to shed skins their whole life. Yes, they do it more frequently when they’re little, but they still have to do it up until the time they die.

So, this new year, may you all remember your snakelike ways of change!


Props: snakeskin. I borrowed one from a local nature resource center.

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