2009 Marks the Year of the Ox & Obama

Prosperity -- good luck, fortune and health -- are some of the blessings we all need at this time of year during these economic times.

For many Asian countries, the beginning of this week is filled with New Year festivities and traditions despite the state of the global economy. Asia celebrates the New Year based on the Chinese calendar and zodiac. The Chinese zodiac identifies 12 symbolic animals with specific characteristics for 12-year cycles that assign elements of metal, wood, earth, water or fire.

This lunar new year lands on Jan. 26 with the arrival of the ox and a mixed farewell to the rat. The ox symbolizes prosperity and fortitude -- a character with a lot of patience, who is a hard worker and tenaciously seeks solutions.

Across Asia, each country celebrates the New Year with different cultural food and traditions. China and Taiwan seem to be the most festive and colorful by celebrating with fanfare, fireworks, lion dances and ancestral memorials. Many people wear red, a color that symbolizes luck and good fortune and protects against negativity. Food, especially sweets, certain meats and noodles hold significant meaning. For example, long noodles symbolize longevity.

One common tradition shared by many Asian cultures is to clean your house on New Year's eve. Spring cleaning to start a new year gets rid of any bad luck and evil spirits. Much of the holiday is spent with family. Children bow to their elders with well wishes of health and joy. In return, they receive a little prize of their own -- envelopes of money.

You don't need to be in Asia to celebrate the lunar new year. Asian Americans in the U.S. spend the holiday with local restaurants and community activities. For instance, restaurants and performers gather in New York's Chinatown for a week-long celebration. Most of New Year's is spent with family and extended relatives.

Personally, my family has kept simple Korean traditions for Seolnal (Korean lunar new year). Every year, Koreans eat a bowl of sliced rice cake soup with dumplings called duk mandu gook or ttukguk. Many Korean families eat this from the start of the morning and it's jokingly said that each bowl you eat adds a year to your life. My mother also prepares sashimi for our family set for good luck. Young children are dressed in the colorful silk hanbok, a traditional outfit.

For fun, most children play a game called 'Yut' (pronounced 'yoot'). It's a board game where you throw one-side-painted sticks instead of dice. The way the sticks land with art laying up or down determines how many points you move on the board.

When young Koreans bow to their parents and elders, we have a certain bow which we call sebe and a saying -- "Say hae bok man he bah du say oh" -- for well wishes in the new year. As we bow, parents and elders give their blessings and hopes for each individual in the new year. Children receive envelopes of money from their elders. Families will also pay respects to their past relatives by either setting up a table with fruits, food and dates or by visiting their graves. Respect, best wishes and eating together with family is central to marking the lunar new year.

The Year of Obama?

Coincidentally, President Barack Obama was born under the sign of the ox in 1961. And it seems that he's started his presidency with all the characteristics of his lunar sign. Recently, he's brought some prosperity to local businesses by hanging out in the local scene around the nation's capital. (Read: Obama: Washington's Man About Town)

Born on Aug. 4, 1961, Obama is more specifically a metal ox.

According to astrology.com: "Since this is an Earth year, those people born in a Metal year will generally fare better than others of their animal sign ... The year 2009 will be a period of lasting accomplishments."

Hence, in the year of the ox, it's no surprise that the nation, as well as the world, is waiting to see what fortune Obama's first year in office will offer.

  • PHOTOS: Lunar New Year Celebrations
  • - ABC News' Eleanor Hong

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