San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Year of the Ox Plods In

After a year of financial crises and economic turmoil, a little calm, hard work and risk-aversion could be just what the doctor ordered. It is fitting, then, that those are the traits expected for year 4707, the year of the ox.

Jan. 26 marked Chinese New Year, which falls on the second new moon after winter solstice. According to tradition, each year in the 12-year calendar bears the name and personality of a specific animal, and people born during the year are said to share its specific traits.

Oxen are obstinate but practical, calm and confident, fearless but friendly. By contrast, 4706 was the year of the rat, known for its passion and charm but also its cunning and selfishness. Famous oxen include Johann Sebastian Bach, Napoleon Bonaparte, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Jane Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Barack Obama, Meryl Streep and Vincent Van Gogh, according to various Web sites.

Chinese astrologists expect the new year to bring prosperity, but unlike the getrich-quick schemes of last year’s rat, the ox moves slowly, with marked patience and persistence. Self-assured yet stubborn, oxen are natural leaders, so perhaps there is good news coming for the global economy after all. Then again, oxen often labor for long hours to accomplish little.

While celebrations in Costa Rica mostly take place around New Year’s Day itself, Chinese New Year celebrations customarily last 15 days. Tradition holds that the color red is lucky; thus, red clothes should be worn during new-year celebrations for luck, and children often receive red envelopes of money to spread good luck and fortune. Eating fish at New Year’s, superstition says, brings long life. But avoid using knives or scissors, as you could cut off luck for the whole year.

Washing your hair or using a broom at New Year’s should also be avoided, or you risk washing out your good luck for the year and sweeping away good fortune.

On the fifth day of the new year, tradition holds that the gods of wealth and prosperity emerge from the heavens. Businesses often welcome the gods on this day by setting off firecrackers. Any dirt or trash you sweep in the first five days should be swept into a corner of the house – not out the door – or you risk sweeping away a family member this year. The Festival of Lanterns on the 15th day marks the end of the celebrations.


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