While you may have heard of the 12-year Chinese zodiac calendar, represented by 12 different animals, it’s actually far more complicated. A year isn’t just categorized by its zodiac animal. There’s also a complex sexagenary cycle — a combination of one of 10 heavenly stems and one of 12 earthly branches.
For example, February 12 marks the beginning of the xin chou year, according to the sexagenary cycle. “Xin” represents the heavenly stem for the element metal, while “chou” is the earthly branch symbol for ox, making it the Year of the Metal Ox.
Thierry Chow, a Hong Kong-based feng shui master
“The year of xin chou will have a strong emphasis on the yin metal element,” she says. “The metal element represents anything sparkly from jewelry to the needle of a syringe. So we can see a bigger emphasis on industries related to metal in 2021.
“The ox, in Chinese culture, is a hardworking zodiac sign. It usually signifies movements so, hopefully, the world will be less static than last year and get moving again in the second half of the year.”
Many people take the 60-year calendar very seriously and believe each person’s own birth sign will be affected differently by the year’s heavenly stems and earthly branches. So the calendar plays an important role in making huge life decisions for the year ahead, such as whether they should get married or start a business.
February 12 marks the start of the Year of the Metal Ox.
Normally, Lunar New Year fairs will be set up during the last days of the lunar year, most selling trinkets and flowers for the new year. But because of the pandemic, many cities have downsized or cancelled their festivities.
The year usually wraps up with a big family reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve, which falls on February 11 this year.
The menu is carefully chosen to include dishes associated with luck, including fish (the Chinese word for it sounds like the word for “surplus”), puddings (symbolizes advancement) and foods that look like gold ingots (like dumplings).
Do wear red, don’t wash your hair. or buy shoes.
Families tend to have different sets of rules and traditions, but most will bless each other with auspicious words like “san tai gin hong” or “shen ti jian kang” (wish you good health).
There are plenty of other rules and superstitions attached to the Lunar New Year. For instance, don’t wash or cut your hair on the first day of the new year. The Chinese character for hair is the first character in the word for prosper. Therefore washing or cutting it off is seen as washing your fortune away.
You’ll also want to avoid purchasing footwear for the entire lunar month, as the term for shoes (haai) sounds like losing and sighing in Cantonese. Do, however, wear red. It’s associated with luck and prosperity.