Anthony Yu has something to crow about today: Asian Lunar New Year 4703, marking the year of the rooster, his sign in the Chinese lunar calender.
He's been waiting almost 12 years for his sign to come up again -- the last time was in 1993, the year he was born.
"A rooster wakes people up," said Yu, who lives in San Francisco's Sunset District. "People say that a rooster is like a chicken, a coward, but I don't think that. I'm proud to be a rooster."
And pride is just one of a rooster's many characteristics, according to traditional Chinese belief.
Roosters are said to be independent and flamboyant, and they like to showcase their talents. They are hard working and unwavering. At times, they may be overconfident or too detail oriented. Famous roosters include actress Michelle Pfeiffer, musician Eric Clapton, actress Katharine Hepburn and statesman Benjamin Franklin.
People born this lunar year, or who are turning 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 and other multiples of 12 are all roosters. The Chinese zodiac animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and boar, the order in the cycle determined by how they placed in a legendary race.
Unlike the scale and pageantry of San Francisco's annual Chinese New Year Parade on Feb. 19, Lunar New Year's day is often an intimate family event where traditions are passed down.
Yu's family has feasts to close out the old year and welcome the new one, with separate meals for his mother's and father's families. He'll also wear his red turtleneck or T-shirt or pants, because the color is lucky. Last week at the Chinese American International School, he donned a Buddha mask during the lion dancing, made firecrackers, and learned about Lunar New Year customs.
"I'm excited it's my year," said Lawrence Wong, who lives in San Francisco's Richmond District and is turning 48 in December. "I feel old every time it comes around." He's independent and eccentric, like a rooster, he said.
His family, like many others, gives out red envelopes of lucky money, and refrains from sweeping away the good luck or cutting their hair.
"Some of the stuff drives me crazy," Wong said. "Sometimes I'm not sure which day is the new year and I start sweeping, and my mom starts yelling."
The customs can also go beyond homes and into businesses.
Victor Wu, of Hillsborough, says he "pecks all day long" just like a rooster, running his family's jewelry business and managing his real estate investments. He flies to Asia at least five times a year and all over the country.
He shuts his Hong Kong jewelry factory for 10 days, and his manager will light incense and have a symbolic opening.
Here, he'll check that his grandkids have new shoes and new clothes, just as he did with his children.
"We need to remember who we are. We're American by birth but Chinese regardless," Wu said. "You can't get away from that."
The Chinese zodiac is also popular with non-Asians seeking insight and amusement.
Claudia Quintana, a Vallejo lawyer, said she's loud and boisterous at times, an early riser, and a hard worker.
"It's a second opinion. It rings true and is reassuring in that way," said Quintana, who turns 36 in August.
Cecilia Shaw, 11, of Millbrae, celebrates the holiday with her Chinese friends.
"Roosters are fierce at anything that gets in the way," said Shaw, who attends the Chinese American International School.
For many Chinese Americans, Lunar New Year is their biggest holiday.
Kam James Chang said he likes Asian New Year more than Christmas and Halloween.
"It's more exciting, all the loud noises," said Chang, 11, who lives in San Francisco's Potrero Hill district. The traditions connect him to his roots, the adoptee said. "They do it in China, too."
Abby Jie-Mei Ren Scott, 11, of Berkeley, would rather be a dog sign. "You can pet them, love them. Roosters kind of creep me out," she said in her high, sweet voice.
But her mother Peggy Scott, 54, a Berkeley video producer, says it's the perfect sign. Scott adopted her daughter from China when she was just 3 1/2 months old.
"She's the person I'm supposed to be with," Scott said. "She had to be born in the year of the rooster -- that's when I was headed to China."
Gung hay fat choy
The Lunar New Year dates from 2600 B.C., when the Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the zodiac. Because of cyclical lunar dating, the first day of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. This year, it falls on Feb. 9, 2005 -- Lunar Year 4703, the year of the rooster.
The sign of the rooster indicates a person who is hard-working, confident and unwavering. This means roosters can really crow about their own accomplishments.
E-mail Vanessa Hua at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE ANIMAL IN YOUR HEART
The Chinese Lunar Calendar names each of the 12 years after an animal.
Legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him
before he departed from Earth. Only 12 came to bid him farewell and as a
reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese
believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound
influence on personality, saying: "This is the animal that hides in your heart.
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That'd be cool on the playa. With elwire.