Chinese New Year in Chilly Tarrytown
The Year of the Ox – 4707
Richard J. Garfunkel
January 31, 2009
Once again we are in a the first month of 2009, and we have just segued out of the western New Year to the ancient Chinese New Year, 4707, the Year of the Ox. People born in the Year of the Ox are patient, speak little, and inspire confidence in others. They tend to be a bit eccentric and bigoted, and they anger easily. They have fierce tempers, and though they speak very little, they speak with authority and are often quite eloquent. They can be aggressively stubborn, and hate to be opposed. They are usually compatible with people born under the sign of the Snake, Rooster, and Rat. The past years of the Ox were; 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, and 1997. Those born in ox years tend to be painters, engineers, and architects. They are stable, fearless, obstinate, hard-working and friendly. Some of the entertainers born under the sign of the Ox are; Jack Nicholson, Charlie Chaplin, Jane Fonda, Meg Ryan, Uma Thurmon, Jet Li, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai, Richard Gere, and Anthony Hopkins. Political leaders include President Barack Obama, Napoleon, Margaret Thatcher, along with madmen; Hitler and Sadaam Hussein. Some athletes are boxer Oscar De La Hoya, and soccer star Wayne Rooney along with artists Van Gogh and Picasso, musicians, as extreme in style, as; Tchaikovsky Johann Sebastian Bach and Bruce Springsteen. Other notables include; Da Vinci, Darwin, Freud, and the late Princess Diana.
The Ox is one of twelve real or mythical animals that make up the cycle of the Sino zodiac of the lunar calendar. According to Chinese legend, the twelve animals quarreled one day as to who was to head the cycle of years. The gods were asked to decide, and they held a contest: whoever was to reach the other side of the river would be first, and how the rest finished would determine the rest of the twelve year cycle. The Ox is second in the cycle because the Rat rode on his back until they both neared the shore, and then the rat leaped off the ox’s back and reached the shore first.
In the Gregorian calendar, Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, a date between January 21 and February 20. This means that the holiday usually falls on the second (or in very rare cases third) new moon after the winter solstice. In traditional Chinese Culture, lichun is a solar term marking the start of spring, which occurs about February 4.
Alongside the 12-year cycle of the animal zodiac there is a 10-year cycle of heavenly stems. Each of the ten heavenly stems is associated with one of the five elements of Chinese astrology, namely: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. The elements are rotated every two years while a yin and yang association alternates every year. The elements are thus distinguished: Yang Wood, Yin Wood, Yang Fire, Yin Fire, etc. These produce a combined cycle that repeats every 60 years. For example, the year of the Yang Fire Rat occurred in 1936 and in 1996, 60 years apart.
The Chinese character for “Yin Earth” represents a field or a garden. It is associated with the quality of moderate, peaceful, intellectual, charming and charitable kind of person. People born in a day of “Yin Earth” are often moderate and harmonious and slim..
It is also interesting to note that Yin earth Ox has appeared in some significant dates in American history, as the Declaration of Independence on 4th July, 1776, and the Pearl Harbor attack on 7th December, 1941 are both Yin earth Ox day. So could 2009 be a year of significance to us under a new President bringing a lot of changes? It so happens that the new U.S. President Barack Obama is also a yin earth person, and his birth elements bear similarity with Abraham Lincoln, who is also a yin earth person.. Naturally he will be the focus of the world in 2009, the yin earth year. It is interesting to note that George W. Bush is a yin metal person and he also became president in 2001 – a yin metal year that started 8 years of turbulence. Hopefully Barak Obama will bring out the peaceful and healing quality of yin earth for the benefit of the world.
The Ox will be the year when the new leaders will commence reconstruction and consolidation of their position and power. This could bring new development in international relationship and improvement in the economy and sure more attention will be pay to the earth aspects, housing, rebuilding, agriculture, and caring for the earth. These themes related to the earth element will be the focus of most new leaders in 2009.
In summary, the industries that will perform well in the year of the Ox will be industries related to Wood and Fire elements. Wood industries are fashion, textile, publications, furniture, and environment protection. Fire industries are entertainment, finance, energy. The earth industry such as property, hotel, mining, insurance etc is still active but not making obvious profit with strong competition. The metal industry such as machinery, engineering, computer, and high tech industries will enter a year of investment. And the sectors relating to water such as shipping, communication, drinks, spa will not be doing so well.
In general, the yin Earth Ox year, with earth on top and earth below, is symbol of a peaceful and relaxing garden, It is a place to rest and calm down to refill our energy and reflect on the past and plan for the future. The theme is of healing and cure from the turbulent time period of 2001 through 2008 and the beginning of the reconstruction and healing of our world. We should focus on earth themes – rebuilding, construction, housing, agricultural improvement to ensure sufficient supply of food, and make progress to reduce CO2 emission and bring back nature to our environment and mother land. The new breed of leaders will take this year to consolidate their power and to gain confidence and trust of the people through bringing stability instead of aggressive performance. Still there will be international conflicts and unrest as most of the new leaders coming up in 2008 are not expecting good luck in 2009, but such events may be less turbulent.
Meanwhile, many confuse their Chinese birth-year with their Gregorian birth-year. As the Chinese New Year starts in late January to mid-February, the Chinese year dates from January 1 until that day in the new Gregorian year remain unchanged from the previous Gregorian year. For example, the 1989 year of the snake began on February 6, 1989. The year 1990 is considered by some people to be the year of the horse. However, the 1989 year of the snake officially ended on January 26, 1990. This means that anyone born from January 1 to January 25, 1990, was actually born in the year of the snake rather than the year of the horse. Many online Chinese Sign calculators do not account for the non-alignment of the two calendars, using Gregorian-calendar years rather than official Chinese New Year dates.
Traditionally the color red is worn on and during the Chinese New Year to scare away evil spirits and bad fortunes. Good luck is encouraged, by opening doors, windows, switching on lights at night to scare away ghosts and spirits, and candy is eaten to insure a “sweet year.” One also will avoid bad luck by not buying shoes, pants or having a haircut. It is said that on the first day of the New Year one should not sweep the floors or buy any books! I did buy two new books on FDR when I was in Hyde Park on the occasion of FDR’s 127th birthday
According to custom the entire house should be cleaned before New Year’s Day. On the eve of the New Year’s all cleaning equipment should be stored away. Shooting off firecrackers on New Year’s Eve is the Chinese way of sending out the old year and bringing on the new. One should open all their doors in windows to allow the old year to escape forever. If one cries on New Year they could be cursed to cry throughout the year. Of course the color red is the chosen one for the holiday. Red is a bright and happy festive color, which is sure to help bring the wearer a sunny bright future. It is considered lucky to hear a songbird or a swallow or a red-colored bird. One should not greet a person in their bedroom, and therefore even the sick should be dressed and be seated in the living room. The use of knives and scissors should be avoided because their use may cut off good fortune. No borrowing or lending should be done on the New Year and the use of off-colored language is strictly forbidden.
Despite all of these forebodings, we did celebrate another edition of our annual Chinese New Year’s fandango. On a cold clear night here in the lower Hudson River valley, all our guests arrived safely and without much of a problem. It did flurry on Friday and this past Wednesday we did have a snow/rain/slush storm. We are also facing a dicey forecast for this coming Tuesday! We lucked out again with the weather. But on Saturday we were well prepared for the coming feast. All of our guests were given culinary assignments and came through remarkably well. Meanwhile the party was called for 7:30 pm and by 8:15 o’clock everyone had made their arrivals. We served the appetizers downstairs, and the main courses and desserts upstairs.
Among the guests this year was our old buddy Keith Stupell, who came up by train from Babylon on the Hudson. This was the third year in a row that Keith made the journey. By the way, he is the proprietor of Carole Stupell’s on 29 East 22nd Street. Keith, not only has been carrying on the famous name of his mother, who was one of the most well-known retailers in NYC history, but is a world’s leading philatelic expert, whose collection of stamps and ephemera is almost unrivaled on our planet. If you had forgotten, or had not known, Carole Stupell invented the “bridal registry.”
Linda’s old Barnard classmate Abby Kurnit, who is semi- retired from teaching in the chemistry department at Pelham High School and her husband Jeff, who is a professor City University of New York, brought two types of homemade rice. They both are Life Members of the Village Light Opera Guild, and over the years we, along with the Koerners and the Adises, have seen many of their fine productions.
Another tennis friend, Diona Koerner, who is a retired chemistry professor from Marymount /Fordham, was accompanied by Ron, her lawyer husband. They both brought a homemade chicken dish. The Koerners have been at each and every Chinese New year party on Watch Hill Drive. My old buddy Mount Vernon buddy Warren Adis, who is a professor at Iona College, and his wife Mary brought a Chinese coleslaw dish. Warren also has made every Chinese New Year’s party that we have held. We have traveled often to the New York museums with the Koerners and the Adises. Both Mary and Diona are English gals by birth, and they have similar interests in chemistry and geology. Warren and I met in the third grade (1952) in Mrs. Krohn’s class at the William Wilson/Traphagen School in Mount Vernon and have had many adventures that included being at the NCAA hockey finals in Syracuse in 1967 when our two schools, Cornell and Boston University, collided for the title.
Sol and Linda Haber play tennis with Linda and me in our weekend indoor games. Sol, who played basketball at Yeshiva of Flatbush, long after Warren and I were through shooting the roundballs in Mount Vernon, hits an excellent serve and a potent forehand. Sol is a dentist who specializes in oral surgery and Linda, who is by training a CPA is in the real estate business in Westchester County. Linda prepared an Asian inspired-salad. Accompanying the Habers were Linda’s sister Mady Schloss with her husband Marty. They brought a bottle of wine and a deck of 50 Feng Shui cards, which teach how to achieve a healthy and harmonious lifestyle.
Another tennis friend, Dave Tannenbaum, an independent CPA and an expert on regional high school and colleges sports since his days at Dewitt Clinton and LIU, brought scallion pancakes. Dave and I usually try to get to the New York State Section I Basketball finals at the County Center each year.
Back again were John Berenyi and his wife Eileen, who hail from Connecticut. John has been a frequent guest on my radio show, and we are working on a sustainability and resiliency initiative for the City of Mount Vernon. The Berenyis brought grapes for dessert. As it turned out, Rosalie Siegel did graduate work with John’s wife, and Linda Haber knew the Berenyis when they all lived in Manhattan. Neil Goldstein, the former head of the American Jewish Congress, and now the Executive Vice-President of the Israel Energy Project has been a guest on my radio show, The Advocates, http://advocates-wvox.com , returned with his wife Laura and they brought a delicious bottle of plum wine. As it turned out, Abby Kurnit knows Neil’s wife, because they taught at Pelham together for many years.
Stan Goldmark, my old friend from Mount Vernon, also made his second appearance at our Chinese New Year celebration. Stan and I met way back in 1957 in Ms. Van Allen’s class, and currently he works in the plastic business and lives in Cold Springs Harbor. Stan made a great shrimp and vegetable dish.
Rosalie Siegel, who is also a Mount Vernon gal, and a former flat mate of Linda’s from Barnard, works for the Port Authority, came with her long-time companion Jeff Tannenbaum, a financial writer. They brought assorted crudités and a new book on FDR written by his first grandson Curtis Roosevelt (nee Dall). Glen Hockley, a member of the White Plains Common Council came this year with wife Melody who was away last year, and they brought tangerines. Leslie Morioka, Barnard alum, who is a partner of the prestigious New York law firm White and Case, brought us oodles of lo mein noodles Another old friend Paul Feiner, who is the Supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh, found time before celebrating his wife’s birthday and, stopped over with a bottle of wine.
One of this year’s newest arrivals was Rosemary Uzzo, a top-notch educator from Yonkers, who spent 35 incredible years on the Yonkers’ Board of Education, brought her brilliant friend Cau Pin, a professor from China, who is now teaching Mandarin in the Yonkers School district. Cau told us about her home in Shandong Province and the university she attended and where she taught psychology. She also brought her computer and entertained us with pictures from her homeland. Rose and Cau Pin brought 100 wonderful homemade dumplings and fortune cookies. The dumplings disappeared with incredible speed. Also Rose, ever the educator brought an old edition of a book about the Teddy Roosevelt’s of Sagamore Hill.
Also newcomers were Allegra and Larry Dengler from Dobbs Ferry. Allegra is the Co-chairperson of the Greenburgh Office of Energy Conservation, and her husband Larry, a lawyer is a trustee of their village. They brought an excellent chicken and rice dish.
We supplied the Tsing Tao Chinese beer, other soft drinks and libations, plus egg roll appetizers from Sam’s Club. Linda made Asian inspired salmon, sweet and sour meat balls, along with an excellent minced beef dish with hoisin sauce and pickled ginger in lettuce wraps. For dessert we had oranges, tangerines, grapes, fortune cookies, sponge cakes, and brownies.
In keeping with the red theme of the holiday, we had cherry tomatoes and radishes on a tray close to loads of Chinese sauces. Red and white plastic plates, cups and plastic utensils made set up and clean up very easy!! We had our usual Chinese decorations and candles lit at the front door to lead our guests to our home.
Finally after four hours of culinary debauchery the party ended and everyone escaped into the cool clear air. By the way, “Happy New Year” is conventionally thought to mean in Cantonese, Gung hei fat choi. But that really means, “Congratulations and be prosperous.” In reality the Cantonese saying for “Happy New Year” is Sun nin fai lok. So either way, thanks for coming, we had a great time so let’s look forward to a better year than the last!
In January of 2008, I wrote in last year’s Chinese New Year’s report, that we hoped the Democrats would remain in control of the House and the Senate win the White House. That thankfully came true! This year’s hope is for a renewed effort for peace in the Middle East, withdrawal from a stabilized Iraq, suppression of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and economic recovery here in the United States. Sun nin fai lok!