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Berger’s Burg: Year of the Rooster may bring instability

With that joke, readers, you know that another Chinese (Asian) New Year will soon be strutting in. On Feb. 9, the departing Year of the Monkey will give way to the incoming Year of the Rooster. Millions of Chinese and Asians around the world will celebrate the new year of 4703 which is set by the lunar calendar. Present-day China uses the Gregorian or Western calendar, but still remembers its older, traditional, one."Rooster," the 10th year in a cyclical series of 12 years, is the next animal-year to take its turn. This rotating sequence repeats itself ad infinitum and has done so for more than 5,000 years. Shh! Don't tell Andy Rooney. It will only make him feel older.The Chinese New Year is the most important and popular of the Chinese festivals. The religious aspect of the holiday emphasizes the clearing away of any bad luck in the old year and obtaining a clean, fresh, slate for the next. It is believed that various god-like spirits reported what occurred during the past year to the ruler of heaven, the Jade Emperor, and he will take appropriate action deemed necessary.Many Chinese open the celebration by burning a paper image of the evil god, Tsao Wang. This act will send him on his way one week before the new year (too bad we can't do the same about Osama bin Laden). Fireworks begin at this time.The New Year is the time for a thorough housecleaning and for the payment of debts (I hope my brother-in-law, who owes me $12, is reading this column). It is also a time for giving alms to the poor and for eating special foods like fowl. There is nothing finer for Gloria and me than trekking down to Chinatown during this holiday and devouring a scrumptious Peking Duck dinner at Wo Hop's restaurant. Gloria, please pass the duck sauce.Beginning on New Year's Day, many Chinese pay ceremonial visits to friends to exchange gifts and oranges. Many will perform "Ching Sen" (the ceremony showing respect for ancestors). They also will greet one another with the traditional "kung-hsi-fa-ts'ai," which means "happy greetings and may you gather wealth." Readers, please e-mail me this wonderful greeting immediately. Who knows? It may come true.On the last day of the year, preparations are made for the family's New Year's feast, which is the highlight of the celebration. Before the meal, all the doors are sealed with paper strips to prevent the entrance of evil. No one may enter or leave until the strips are removed before dawn (this is a good way to keep my cranky Uncle Meyer away). After the meal, gifts are exchanged again, and at midnight, solemn greetings and family ceremonies begin.The festivities usually last from 10 to 15 days, or until the feast of the Lantern Festival takes place. A procession of paraders, each carrying elaborate lighted paper lanterns, saunter down the parade route. Dances by dragons and lions (symbols of strength) fill the street as two people, in costume, make these figures run, jump, growl, and paw the air. Loudly sounding drums, cymbals, and gongs add to the terrifying scene.The object of the animals' ferocious dance is to scare away bad luck. At the conclusion of the dance, the animals bow to the audience. A person then offers the animals some lettuce. It is chewed up and spat toward the audience. Everyone cheers. The lettuce is a symbol of wealth and good luck. Hmm. I must tell Gloria to always keep a head of lettuce in the house for spatting purposes.Each of the 12 years in the astrology cycle is named after a special animal in the Chinese Zodiac and each animal is placed in a specific pecking order. The years in sequence are the: Rat (Aries), Ox (Taurus), Tiger (Gemini), Rabbit (Cancer), Dragon (Leo), Serpent (Virgo), Horse (Libra), Sheep (Scorpio), Monkey (Sagittarius), Rooster (Capricorn), Dog (Aquarius), and Pig (Pisces). Each animal-year carries the particular animal's imprint on it, for good or bad. It is widely believed that persons born during an animal's year, will be ingrained with the qualities of that animal.Louis DiGiorgi, of Whitestone, an expert on Chinese astrology, is a strong believer in its teachings. He gave me a lesson on the incoming Year of the Rooster, known in Chinese as Ji Nian, meaning (unisex) chicken. "To flatter the masculinity of men born under the sign (1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005)," he said, "the Chinese rendering of this zodiac symbol always shows a proud rooster, not a hen.""People born under the Rooster sign (such as Katharine Hepburn, Dolly Parton, and Eric Clapton) share specific characteristics that are common to all other Rooster people. They are flamboyant, witty, hard-workers, courageous, passionate, protective, patriotic, social gadabouts and industrious. The other traits are bluntness, conceit, abrasiveness, impatience, aggression, fussiness, being melodramatic and, like the rooster, eager to show off their fine feathers."However, for the general population, the year may mean a time of instability and bad luck. Some engaged Chinese couples are hastening their marriage vows before the 'Rooster' year begins. They do not want their wedding linked with instability and bad luck.For those who are interested, the best Rooster mates are those born under the sign of the Ox (1973, 1985, 1997) or the Snake (1977, 1989, 2001). The worst no-no partners would be those born under the signs of the Rat (1972, 1984, 1996), Rabbit (1975, 1987, 1999), Monkey (1980, 1992, 2004), and (oh, no), another Rooster. So, lovebirds, take heed - or forever rue the day you failed to follow "Professor" Louis DiGiorgia's matrimonial advice.At this time, Louis, Gloria and I want to personally wish all my Chinese and Asian readers a kung-hsi-fa-ts'ai (a wish for happiness and prosperity) and Shin Nian Kwai Le (a Happy New Year) and, of course, peace (in every language).Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, ext. 138.

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