China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2005/Feb

Year of the Rooster

The Rooster is on hand to say, “Good Morning!”
The Rooster is on hand to say, “Good Night!”
He is the soul of precision,
Always seeking for perfection and order.
He keeps everything neat and in the right place.
He is a vigilant manager, and a no-nonsense master.
He is a good provider and a model of enduring fidelity.
He is the Rooster!

“The unhappiest person on earth,” so the saying goes, “is the Chinese who cannot go home for the New Year.” This tradition of “going home” started long ago, perhaps to allow dignitaries who worked far from home to return to their families for some days at that time of the year.

Whatever the origins may have been, the tradition is alive and well thousands of years later as Chinese all over the world board planes, boats, trains and buses to return to their ancestral homes for the Lunar New Year.

The Lunar New Year is based on the Hsia calendar, established almost five thousand years ago. Throughout the centuries, there have been a variety of calendars in use, but the first, the Hsia, is the only one universally used today. While many people all over the world talk about the Chinese New Year, it is more properly called the Lunar New Year since it is also celebrated among the Japanese and the Koreans.

Food and firecrackers

No Lunar New Year would be complete without lots of food. According to tradition, food is prepared days ahead. However, in Hong Kong today, where homes are often too small to entertain the whole family, or long working hours prevent people from spending much time in the kitchen, many families end up in restaurants where special menus and prices are set up for this special occasion.

Almost as important as food at the Lunar New Year are firecrackers. Everyone knows that the Chinese invented gunpowder and that gunpowder provides the boom in today’s firecrackers. Children are not the only ones who enjoy the snap, pop, crackle of firecrackers or watching them explode into colour. People of all ages find sheer delight in the “big bang bangs,” the colours, the shapes and beautiful art designs that today characterise modern fireworks.

But long before the Chinese invented gunpowder some 1,000 years ago, the Chinese already, though perhaps inadvertently, had discovered how to make a big crackling noise.

They got their first big bang by throwing green bamboo into the bonfire. This was perhaps an accident. Once the knobby reeds are really hot, they explode. The Chinese had found a new way to express their feelings of exhilaration, joy and sadness. The big noise served to scare away undesirable animals or evil spirits such as the legendary evil nian.

According to legend, each spring the nian wreaked havoc among the farmers, devastating their spring crops. With evil spirits firmly under control with the big noise, the firecracker soon became a sign for peace, prosperity, happiness and health in the New Year! Noise has always been a way of expressing joy, so firecrackers became an integral part of a variety of special celebrations like weddings and other family feasts and festivals. Since evil spirits could hover around the bodies of the deceased, firecrackers also became a must at funerals.

The Year of the Rooster

The rooster (gong ji) is the 10th animal in the zodiac cycle. Everyone knows that chicken is one of the Chinese people’s favourite foods. As we celebrate the Year of the Rooster, it may not be a bad idea to ask: What is a rooster? A rooster is the male of the domestic fowl species, or a male chicken. It is also called a cock.

The markets will be filled with chickens for the New Year, but you will be hard pressed to find any roosters among them. The Chinese are not disposed to eat them. Why? According to long-standing tradition, roosters or cocks possess certain virtues, honoured by the Chinese that preclude their ending up on the table. The listing of these virtues sometimes attributed to Confucius are: 1) The rooster is elegant because he wears a fancy head dress; 2) The rooster is militant because he has a spur on each foot; 3) The rooster is brave because he defies the enemy; 4) The rooster is beneficent because he calls others to share the food he finds; 5) Finally, the rooster is trustworthy and reliable because he keeps time with his crowing. History records that the Roman armies had such faith in the reliability of the rooster’s crowing that it served for the changing of the Roman guard.

Roosters come in three basic colours: gold, red and white. Each has a special significance. The red rooster is a general protector; the white rooster is a protector against evil spirits hovering around the coffins of the dead, and the golden rooster, according to the Chinese saying, “dissolves in tears at the sight of a dog.”

2005 The Year of the Wood Rooster

The year 2005 is the Year of the Wood Rooster. The Wood Rooster comes around every 60 years. The last time was 1945, the year the Second World War ended.

Ordinarily, Rooster people are very individualistic, but people born in the year of the Wood Rooster are different. They like to be part of a team. Instead of strutting around like Fire Roosters who spend a lot of time on their looks, the Wood Rooster prefers to do volunteer work that will eliminate evils in society. Sometimes the Wood Roosters take on more than they can do only to find that they must leave a number of things undone.

Characteristics of Roosters

In general Roosters are nice to have in a crowd. They are good entertainers, reliable, honest and successful in their chosen profession. Although they can be caring individuals, they are not always easy to live with since they are often blunt, obstinate and forever rearranging things around the house, in the drawers, cabinets and closets.

There are conflicting opinions regarding what types make good lifelong compatible partners. Generally, Roosters should be wary of marrying a Rat since the result would end up being more conflict than love. Other types to be avoided are the Tiger since both are too strong willed and both the Rabbit and the Monkey are a disaster for the Rooster.

Life with the Dragon might be interesting, but certainly not peaceful since the two egos would often clash. There is some possibility in a union with the Dog, though life might be dull. With the Pig, arguments are likely to be less vehement than with the Horse. But, on the whole, the Rooster will be more compatible with the Ox, or the Snake.

Career choices

According to horoscopes, Rooster people make excellent actors, soldiers, dancers, musicians, insurance agents, bookkeepers, secretaries, bankers and accountants. To verify that, I checked the Net for the names of famous people born in the Year of the Rooster. I had no difficulty finding successful actors. Heading the list was Katherine Hepburn, Bette Midler, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mia Farrow, Groucho Marx and many others.

Not mentioned in the horoscope’s career predictions are the “royal Roosters.” In this category I found an impressive list: Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth’s husband; Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, King Birenda of Nepal, and Crown Prince Akihito of Japan.

One of the categories of preferred careers is that of musician. I found several in this category: Enrico Caruso, one of the greatest singers of all time, Elton John, Ethel Merman, Britney Spears, to name but a few.

There were also plenty of famous authors: Rudyard Kipling, famous British poet, Alex Haley, noted especially for his monumental book, Roots, Paul Gallico for his Snow Goose, to give but a sampling. In Church circles, the only famous person born in the Year of the Rooster listed was Pope Paul VI.

The Rooster in Christian tradition

The Rooster has found a special place in the minds and hearts of the Chinese, their folklore and their traditions. It is difficult to find references to the Rooster in the Old Testament. Does the cock have a memorable place within our Christian tradition? When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he likened God, not so much to a Rooster as to a Mother hen that gathers her brood under her wings, (Lk 13:34).

Is there any Christian who is not familiar with the scene at the last Supper when Peter insists, “I will never desert you,” and Jesus says, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times?” (Mt 26: 33-34). And while Peter is denying that he ever knew Jesus, – the evangelist records, “Then he began to curse and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know the man!’ – at that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.”

So important is this episode that it is recorded by all four evangelists: Matthew 26: 74-75; Mark 14: 30, 72; Luke 22: 34, 60-62 and John 13:38 and 18: 27.

Have you ever wondered what went on in Peter’s mind whenever he heard the cock crow after that fatal night in Jerusalem? And did Peter weep again?