Celebrating the Year of the Horse, five times around

2014 is the Year of the Wooden Horse. The Chinese Zodiac calendar follows a 12 year cycle, with each year attributed to an animal associated with one of the five ‘elements’ – earth, fire, water, metal and wood. The first cycle of the Chinese Zodiac was introduced in 2600 BC by Emperor Huang Ti. This demonstrates the long history of the elements in Chinese culture.

In the Lunar calendar, the passage of the 12 animals and the five elements makes up a sixty year cycle. My brother Rod turns 60 today on his fifth time around (Happy Birthday Rod!), so it is particularly apt to reflect on and celebrate this elemental cycle today.

Two horses on a wooden ema from Kibune Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Two horses on a wooden ema from Kibune Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

How do the characteristics of wood blend with those of the horse for those born in the year where this element and animal intersect? This is a question that has been addressed in detail over an extended period. The characteristics of a person born in the Year of the Wooden Horse seem quite varied however, depending on which interpretation you read. As a starting point, I’ve taken a look at the two aspects that define this year – the horse, and wood. A simplistic approach perhaps, although interesting (and hopefully illuminating) none-the-less.

Horses are intelligent, sensitive animals. They are used to carry people and their goods around the globe, as well as providing a form of entertainment through racing. Horses have been the subject of uplifting stories such as Black Beauty, the horse-whisperer and are used to help people with depression, behavioural and other issues. The sense and sensibility of horses have shown them to be great healers. Following this through, people born in the Year of the Horse can be intelligent, sensitive to others feelings and have the capacity to heal.

Trees provide us with our source of wood and have done so at least  since humans learnt how to make fire to cook.  This has been estimated as occurring 250,000 years ago, with some authors identifying a much longer period. It has been suggested that using wood as a fuel source for cooking has contributed to the evolution of humans through changing the nature of the food we eat and its nutritional characteristics. Burning wood has also warmed and comforted countless people sitting and sleeping around a fire.

Trees provide many benefits to people, including being a source of wood

Trees provide many benefits to people, including being a source of wood

More recently in human evolution wood has been used, for example, as a construction material for buildings, boats and furniture, to make paper and for infrastructure such as mine-shafts and railway sleepers. Wood, and the trees it comes from, have been essential for human existence and will continue to be so. The characteristics of wood that could be linked to human traits are the ability for people to be transformed, to change other people lives and to be beautiful, comforting and sturdy.

For those fortunate enough to reach the fifth round of this 12 year cycle, there is much to celebrate. Some say you become an ‘elder’ at 60. Japan has adopted and adapted the Chinese Zodiac and places special significance on this birthday. A kanreki is the celebration for a person turning 60 in Japan and is traditionally hosted by the honoree’s family. “Kan” means cycle + “Reki” means calendar. The sixty-first birthday (sixtieth on a Western calendar) marks the beginning of an individual’s second childhood.

The colour red is associated with kanreki celebrations, with the honoree traditionally wearing red clothes. Aka-chan means baby or literally, “red one” in Japanese. The 60-year-old person is once again a baby who is embarking on the next 60-year cycle. It is a rebirth. Donning red symbolizes that return to babyhood.

The colour red is associated with the celebration of a 60th birthday in Japan

The colour red is associated with the celebration of a 60th birthday in Japan

60-year olds are expected to use this year as a year of reflection. They are to look at their lives and achievements and use this time as a good opportunity to plan the direction in which they would like to move as they begin their second sixty year cycle of life. That sounds like a great plan to me!

2 thoughts on “Celebrating the Year of the Horse, five times around

  1. It’s refreshing to read about a culture that honors aging – our family is blessed to have three ‘official’ elders. I’d like to see the three of them dressed in red. That would be quite a sight!

    • Respect for our elders is very important. They have such accumulated knowledge and experience to share. Good luck with convincing three of them to wear red though. It’s not everyone’s colour of choice!

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