A picture of a restaurant in Chinatown. Photo courtesy of Pierce Hudson.
By Pierce Hudson
Most of us know that the Lunar New Year is closely associated with an assortment of animals. While some of us know which animal represents our birth year, most people don’t or are not sure what the animals actually mean or where they came from. They are surprisingly similar to the Zodiac astrology signs adopted in America, which possess their own complex history going as far back as Babylonian times, but this article will mainly focus on the Chinese zodiac and mythology.
Where the Western Zodiac signs consist of Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces, which are constellations representing each of the 30° rotations pertaining to the 360° yearly orbit, the Lunar New Year animals consist of the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Both zodiacs include 12 representations of the passage of time, with Western astrology having 12 month-long periods and Chinese astrology having 12 year-long periods. Both zodiacs have also developed a culture around them that associates the signs with different human qualities like personality, goals, and things they enjoy. However, where they differ is in their origins. While the Western zodiac takes the names of these periods of time from constellations of stars, the animals in Chinese culture come from fairytales.
The animals have a history in folklore and represent not only a way to date the years but also characters in a story. Since there are 12 animals and every year the animal changes, the animals were used to date 12-year cycles in the Chinese calendar to help plan for harvests, celebrations, and everybody’s favorite thing: Taxes. Their story is about a race called by the Jade Emperor in which the twelve animals must cross a river and reach the other shore. It speaks of the animals either helping each other out or fighting against each other to finish first, and the order they finished the race is the order of animals in the Chinese Zodiac.
This lunar new year’s animal is the rabbit, which finished fourth and is said to be the luckiest of the animals symbolizing beauty, peace, and elegance. This quality of luckiness is illustrated in the tale itself when the rabbit was swept away by the current until it found a convenient log to float along on to the end of the race. People whose lunar animal is the rabbit are also said to be intelligent, thoughtful, calm, and collected.
While you may not believe that a constellation or mythical tale can predict your personality and relationships with others, it is still nice to learn about how another culture shares some similarities with our own, so celebrate the lunar new year however you’d like and ask your parents if their lunar animal is the rabbit!
Work Cited“The Chinese Zodiac.” Chinese Zodiac | Rabbit, https://depts.washington.edu/triolive/quest/2007/TTQ07030/rabbit.html.