… You make me want to be the best ox I can be, so I thank you again. You are the unflattering light of my life.
from XO, Ox: A Love Story
written by Adam Rex
illustrated by Scott Campbell
Roaring Brook Press, 2017
I’m not unfamiliar with the lunar year. Jewish holidays are based on the lunar calendar and each Israeli month begins with a new moon. Each month in the twelve-month year is 29 or 30 days long. To compensate for the shorter year, a leap month is added seven times during a 19-year cycle. This adjustment ensures the holidays fall during the correct season, making them seem to come “early” or “late” in the Gregorian calendar we are all used to.
The traditional Islamic calendar is also tied to the lunar cycle. Like the Hebrew calendar, the sum of their twelve lunar months is eleven days shorter than the solar year. Without the use of corrective mechanisms like leap days and leap months to synchronize the lunar calendar with the solar one, Muslim holidays occur earlier and earlier in each solar year. But that is not important. Time is time. A month is as long as a month is. Holidays occur in their appropriate month, no matter what the season.
Chinese years are based on the lunar calendar, too. The New Year begins on the first new moon after the Winter Solstice. Like the Hebrew and Islamic calendars, the traditional Chinese calendar uses a twelve-month cycle of 29- or 30- day months and compensates by adding a whole month when needed to keep the months in their proper seasons.
We recently (February 12, 2021) entered the Year of the Ox. Knowing the name of the year is only a small fraction of the complexity of the Chinese Zodiac and the astrology determined by it, though. Stars are aligned or not with each other. Particular signs can be auspicious or not, depending on many factors. The Feng Shui Institute offers an overview of how to read the Chinese Zodiac. https://www.feng-shui-institute.org/Chinese_Astrology/interpretation.html
It would be interesting, but more complex than I’m willing to consider right now, to compare a reading using the Greek Zodiac we are familiar with along side the traditional Chinese Zodiac. Just sayin’.
According to https://www.chineasy.com/the-characteristics-of-each-chinese-zodiac/, in Chinese culture, oxen are symbols of wealth, prosperity, diligence, and perseverance. They are quiet, steadfast, and methodical.
The five elements, metal, water, wood, fire, and earth, contribute to our understanding, too, and help determine how we will all fair during this Year of the Ox. This being a metal year, we celebrate the Metal Ox. Attributes of metal include firmness, rigidity, persistence, strength, and determination, self-reliance, and sophistication.
Combine the qualities of an ox with the qualities of metal, and people who are metal oxen are said to be hardworking, active, always busy, and popular among friends. Barak Obama is a metal ox.
Looking ahead to our Metal Ox year, we might expect an emphasis on metallurgy (Jewelry? Cars? Hammers, nails and I-beams?) and a focus on diligence, wealth, and a quiet, methodical movement forward.
Many traditions help usher in the New Year. Preparations begin early. On the 26th day of the previous month, festive cakes and puddings are served. They symbolize wishes for improvement and growth in the coming year. A thorough cleaning is done on the 28th day of the previous month, and welcome banners are hung on the 29th. Family reunion dinners take place on New Year’s Eve. The menu is important. Foods associated with luck, like fish and puddings as well as food that mimics gold ingots, like dumplings are often served.
Some families stay awake past midnight to welcome the New Year as soon as it arrives.
Parents give red money envelopes to their children.
People parade in the streets.
Here in the West we say “Chinese New Year,” but the holiday is celebrated in many Asian nations including Viet Nam, South Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia.
The New Year celebration culminates on the fifteenth day of the holiday (this year February 26), when the Lantern Festival is celebrated. Many cities around the world still put on massive lantern displays and fairs on the final day of the festival. Some cities shoot up fireworks.
In this year of COVID-19, most festivities both in cities and families have been cancelled or curtailed.
On February 26, I won’t wash or cut my hair. I could be washing or cutting away my luck in the New Year. I won’t sweep my house or clean anything. That might destroy the good luck that arrived just after midnight. The Chinese word for "book" (shū) sounds exactly the same as the word for "lose" so giving a book as a gift or even reading a book yourself is an invitation for loss. That will be hard for me. I wonder if reading on my tablet counts?
I’ll will wear red, a lucky color, and some jewelry to honor the metal in my life. I’ll ponder my many gifts that make me feel grateful.
-—stay curious! (and celebrate)