[PHOTO - Scuba divers perform a dragon dance at the Manila Ocean Park to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year. The Lunar New Year begins tomorrow and marks the start of the Year of the Dragon, according to the Chinese zodiac. EDD GUMBAN]

MANILA, JANUARY 24, 2012 (STAR) By Doreen G. Yu - Of the 12 animals that responded to Lord Buddha’s call to appear before him, the dragon is the only mythical creature, and the only one that can fly. So why was the dragon not the first but the fifth to arrive at Lord Buddha’s court, after the rat, ox, tiger and rabbit, but ahead of the snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig?

One legend has it that as the dragon was flying above the earth, it saw some villages suffering from drought and crops would not grow. The dragon made a detour to help the villages by blowing on the clouds and causing rain to fall on the dry villages.

Such is the benevolence of the dragon, a symbol of positive force and power in Chinese mythology.

The dragon is traditionally the symbol of the Chinese emperor, representing supreme spiritual power. The dragon also symbolizes celestial and terrestrial power, as well as wisdom and strength.

Chinese emperors were said to consult the dragon on matters of state, but the dragon did not take kindly to its advice being ignored. When the emperor does not heed its counsel, the dragon would cause storms by breathing on the clouds, or cause a drought by beating its tail to empty the lakes and rivers.

Not all dragons are created equal. The Chinese imperial dragon is depicted with five claws, while the common dragon has only four. (The Japanese dragon only has three claws.)

Chinese mythological hierarchy lists four, some even have nine kinds of dragons. The most important is, of course, the heavenly dragon (tian long), the celestial guardian that protects the heavens. The spiritual dragon (shen long) is in charge of the wind, clouds and rain, and is thus very important to the agricultural sector, a vital consideration in ancient and even modern China.

The earth dragon (di long) lives in palaces in the depths of the rivers and lakes, while the treasure dragon (fucang long) lives in caves deep in the earth and is in charge of all precious jewels and minerals.

The dragon is believed to bring good fortune, prosperity and bounty, thus the entrance of the Year of the Dragon tomorrow is being met with great excitement and anticipation.

Today, the eve of the new year, will be abuzz with festivity, with parades, dragon and lion dances and fireworks displays to bring the Year of the Rabbit to a close and usher in the much anticipated Year of the Dragon.

Ongpin street in the heart of Manila’s Chinatown will be closed to vehicles as the stretch of road will be turned into a public fair ground, with tents showcasing various traditional crafts like paper cutting, calligraphy, fan painting, acupuncture, feng shui (geomancy) consultations and fortune telling. Raucous dragon and lion dances will fill the streets.

In the homes of the Chinese Filipinos or Tsinoys throughout the country as it will be throughout the world among overseas Chinese communities, there will generally be much festivity and feasting, as families gather around the table (in ancient China, it still being winter, families gathered around the hearth) to share a sumptuous meal. Fowl – duck or chicken – is served whole, as is fish, the latter particularly significant, since fish (yu) is a homonym for bounty, as in the Chinese saying nian nian you yu, meaning bounty year after year. Noodles – the longer the better – symbolize longevity, and sweet sticky rice cakes – the ubiquitous tikoy – promote family togetherness (sticking together) and harmonious relations (sweetness).

The Year of the Dragon is believed to bring the Four Blessings of the East - wealth, virtue, harmony and longevity. The year is expected to be dynamic and vibrant, with opportunities abounding. Under the influence of the element of Water, this will be a yang year, flowing rather than stagnant. But it will not necessarily mean positive developments all around, as all that energy may just as easily lead to major crashes for those who do not augur well with the elements.

Those born in the Year of the Dragon are said to be imbued with its characteristics: vibrant, dynamic, bountiful, specially gifted. Dragons are said to be blessed with the positive energies of the sky and the earth this year. Thus there is a mad rush among couples to have a dragon baby; they have until Feb. 9, 2013 to do so in the hope that their precious bundle of joy may turn out to be the 21st century’s Placido Domingo, Sigmund Freud, Martin Luther King, Christian Dior or John Lennon.

The Water Dragon is said to be friendly, easy going, intelligent, quick-witted and eager to grab opportunities that come along.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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