Economists, pundits and even our new president have said 2009 will be a difficult year. That seems appropriate for the Year of the Ox, which arrived Monday with the start of the Chinese New Year.
The ox is a sign of prosperity reached through perseverance and hard work. We've survived some rough times during the Year of the Ox, which comes around every 12 years. It looks as if 2009 will be no different.
In 1973, there was an oil crisis and long lines at the gas pump. The stock market didn't fare too well, either. In 1985, we did much better, but in 1997 Asian markets took a dive.
"In China, people look positively on the Year of the Ox," said Ying Juan Rogers, vice president of the Kentucky World Trade Center and a member of the Kentucky Chinese American Association in Lexington. "It is a prosperous year if people work really hard."
In America, the zodiac signs are taken with a grain of salt, she said. Still, the Chinese New Year is the equivalent of Christmas in the size of its observance. The entire festival lasts 15 days.
"Right now, people in China have gone back to their hometowns to visit relatives and ancestors," said David Wachtel, director of China partnerships for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. "You can forget about getting a rail ticket or an air flight."
Wachtel, who has visited and taught in China every summer for the past 13 years, said he portrayed a Mongolian, despite being a white American, in Saturday's celebration at the Singletary Center for the Arts. "I am absolutely dedicated and fascinated by China," he said.
Dr. Mickey Chang Xun, whose medical practice was in Lexington until a couple of months ago, now lives in Kansas, but she returned for the celebrations. She is president of the Kentucky Chinese American Association.
"The ox works hard and never gives up," she said.
The ox is one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. 2008 was the Year of the Rat.
The ox symbolizes not only hard work but also calm. Legend has it that Buddha called all the animals to him on the Chinese New Year, just before he left the earth. Only 12 showed up, however.
In the rush to get there, the ox carried the rat on its head as the animals raced for a spot that would solidify their place on the Chinese calendar. Just as the ox neared Buddha, the rat jumped off and claimed the spot for the first year.
There were celebrations last week in local schools and libraries, as well as the Singletary Center. The activities were sponsored by local and Chinese corporations with a goal of fostering awareness and appreciation for a culture that comprises about one-fifth of the world's population.
The celebrations help American and Chinese cultures to understand each other "with mutual respect," Xun said.
The beginning of the Chinese New Year — which this year signals the start of the year 4706 on the Chinese calendar — changes each year because it is based on the lunar calendar, as is the Islamic calendar. In 2010,the Year of the Tiger will begin Feb. 14.
People born in the Year of the Ox, and therefore, sharing traits of that animal, include Vincent Van Gogh, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Clooney and President Barack Obama.
Maybe that will bode well for us. Having a president who knows how to plow through muck and rocks might be what we need.