2018-02-15 / Around Town

February Brings the Year of the Dog

By Bettie J. Sarantos


Chinese brush painting and calligraphy by Bettie Sarantos. Chinese brush painting and calligraphy by Bettie Sarantos. This month, on the 16th, we will bid farewell to the Chinese Year of the Rooster, and welcome the friendly and reliable Year of the Dog.

The oldest and most important festival in China is the Spring Festival, known in the West as the Chinese New Year. The date of the new year is determined by the lunar/ solar calendar, so the date of the holiday varies from late January to mid-February. It arrives with the second new moon after the Winter Solstice.

Like the West, the East has a zodiac, but with a cycle of 12 years instead of 12 months. The Chinese also include the five elements (metal, water, wood, fire and Earth) in the Chinese calendar. This year the element associated with the dog is Earth.

According to Chinese legend, Buddha established the zodiac centuries ago in an attempt to restore order to the affairs of the world by inviting all of the animal kingdom to a summit conference. But only 12 beasts came. He named the years after them in the order in which they arrived: Rat, Oxen, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Each animal presides over an entire year.

In Chinese astrology, the attributes of each animal sign determine the personality of the person born in that year. Some of the key characteristics of people born in the Year of the Dog are courageous, alert, watchful, loyal, protective, brave and tender. They may also be stubborn, critical of others, anxious, defensive and distrustful.

Dog years are considered to be filled with prosperity, but only after determination and hard work. Fights for the weak and underprivileged will take place throughout the year and moral issues will be of major concern. Many of the best entertainers were born in the Year of the Dog.

Also born in the Year of the Dog were Winston Churchill, Prince William, Socrates, Benjamin Franklin, Bill Clinton, Confucius, Voltaire, Shirley MacLaine, George Gershwin, Golda Meir, Herbert Hoover, Carol Burnett, Cher, Michael Jackson, Edith Wharton, Madonna and Donald Trump.

Many customs and traditions are associated with the Chinese New Year. All debts from the old year are paid. Children receive red packets decorated with gold symbols and filled with “lucky money.” The home is cleaned thoroughly, sweeping away any bad luck that may have accumulated over the past year. Doors and window panes are decorated with fresh spring flowers.

There are also many symbolic foods. For example, uncut noodles represent a long life, while an orange means good luck. A whole chicken symbolizes family togetherness, and fish served whole symbolizes a good beginning and ending for the coming year. Finally, fireworks are a must, for it is believed that they are loved by good spirits and feared by bad ones.

Bettie J. Sarantos is a Newport artist and teacher of Oriental brush painting. She has traveled to China several times and is an active member of the Spring Bull Gallery. She serves as director of the Roger King Gallery of Fine Art.

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