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Opinion: The year of the metal ox

I did it again! Each year, I make a secular vow that I will not repeat the previous year’s incident because I really enjoy all the excitement. But, I messed up; I missed Groundhog Day on Tuesday, just as I have every year. But this year, it wasn’t entirely my fault. Here’s what happened.

At some point last Sunday, a car ran into a Comcast pole somewhere, knocking out its ability to transmit communications capability to most of Madera. So, from sometime Sunday night until sometime Monday night, I — like most other Maderans — had no phone, no television, no internet and, because everything in my house depends on wi-fi connectivity, no mobile phone.

Because of our “shelter-in-place” status, I was essentially shipwrecked on a tiny island, a castaway beneath the palm trees of north-west Madera. I lost a whole day of my life. So, Tuesday, a day of merriment and celebration in western Pennsylvania (and elsewhere), was just a lost Monday to me. Then, as if by magic, it was Wednesday. Consequently, I don’t know if Punxsutawney Phil, the prognosticating rodent whose appearance on February 2nd has been honored since 1886, saw his shadow when he popped out of his burrow on Cobbler‘s Hill.

Will we have six more weeks of staring at our walls and listening to the patter of winter rain on our roof or is spring just around the corner when we can look forward to staring at our walls and listening to birds singing outside our windows? Having missed Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction, I guess I’ll have to fill my days between now and whenever spring occurs by trying to finish reading that graphic novel that I started back in September, while the claustrophobia-inducing walls close in on me.

Chinese New Year

As I look at my calendar, I see that I’m trapped between a woodchuck and an ox. The woodchuck probably crept back into its burrow earlier this week, and the ox will make its appearance on Friday for the celebration of the Chinese New Year. With a smidge of good fortune and a ton of avid determination, I shall not miss that joyous day.

On Friday, we’ll bid goodbye to the Year of the Rat. How appropriate is that? After all, a rat is nothing more than a bat without winds. And, according to news stories that I’ve read, the pandemic began with a bowl of bat soup in Wuhan, China. But, on Friday, the ox will chase the rat/bat away, and the ox is a symbol of good luck in China.

According to Chinese seers, people born during the Year of the Ox will live a long, active, and busy life. They are likely to be born rich, and they will be honorable people within their communities. They will live “steadily” during their middle years, and will spend their senior lives enjoying a “comfortable” retirement. However, they must be careful in their relationships with the opposite sex. Unfortunately, there is no elaboration on what the latter means.

Chinese calendar

The Chinese calendar runs in sixty-year cycles, and each year is symbolized by one of twelve animals and one of five elements. The elements are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, occurring in that order. And the animals in order are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. The dragon, of course, is only a mythical creature, but it is as real in Asia as elves and gnomes are in Iceland.

The sixty-year cycle is achieved by pairing one animal with each of the five elements. So, 2021 is the year of the metal ox, and most calendars have indicated that the metal for this year is gold. Perhaps that’s a good omen.

The Great Race

The order in which the animals appear was determined more than 2,000 years ago, during the Qin dynasty. And that time, the Jade Emperor decided to stage a great race. He summoned all the animals to his palace and started the race with the blast of a firecracker.

The tiger, horse, and rabbit all got off to a great start, but the pig noticed a hunk of roast beef on the side of the road and decided to eat it in order to benefit from the protein. The dog saw what the pig was doing and challenged the hog for the meal. The monkey stopped to watch the fight between Fido and Porky, and the rooster stayed behind to crow about it.

As the racers exited the forest and entered the maze of tunnels in Mount Doom, the dragon spotted an old friend and stopped to pass the time of day. The snake encountered Smeagol, and you know what they say about snakes of a feather.

As they left the mountain behind, the ox and the rat saw that there was a shallow river between them and the finish line. The rat begged the ox to allow it to ride across the water on its back, the rat simpering, “I — I just can’t — I really don’t know how to swim.” The good-natured ox accommodated the rodent and the two animals forded the river. But, just as they were about to cross the finish line together, the rat -- being a rat -- jumped from the ox’s back, landing across the finish line first. The tiger came in third.

The ox never really got over how it was cheated in that race. So be aware that it will likely try to stamp out any evidence of the rat’s reign. And, 2022 will be even better because there’s nothing that a tiger loves more than a fine brisket of ox.

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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. He sometimes embellishes his writing with fictitious folly. He may be contacted at

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