It’s that time of the year again. The time when everyone who’s in a country related to the Chinese culture can enjoy the madness (in a good sense) of the Chinese new year.
What a lot of people don’t know is: why is the Chinese new year around the end of January or the beginning of February? The reason for that is the Moon. In the Chinese tradition they don’t base their calendar on the 4 seasons, like we’re used to in European countries and relative colonies. On this side of the world everything depends on the Moon, so the new year begins when the Moon is starting her new cycle at the beginning of the 1st month. There can be 3 weeks of variance in that, so every year the starting date of the celebration will be different.
One more difference is the zodiac. In the western society we have a symbol connected to each month, while for the Chinese tradition you have a symbol connected to the whole year, so everyone born on the same year will be represented by the same animal:
- Rat (2008)
- Ox (2009)
- Tiger (2010)
- Rabbit (2011)
- Dragon (2012)
- Snake (2013)
- Horse (2014)
- Goat (2015)
- Monkey (2016)
- Rooster (2017)
- Dog (2018)
- Pig (2019)
Every 12 years they start all over, so for example if you were born in the 1980 you’d be a monkey, but keep in mind that if you were born in January or February you should check if the Chinese year started before or after your birthday.
The animals always follow that order and there’s a story behind it.
An ancient folk story tells that Cat and Rat were the worst swimmers in the animal kingdom. Although they were poor swimmers, they were both quite intelligent. To get to the meeting called by the Jade Emperor, they had to cross a river to reach the meeting place. The Jade Emperor had also decreed that the years on the calendar would be named for each animal in the order they arrived to the meeting. Cat and Rat decided that the best and fastest way to cross the river was to hop on the back of Ox. Ox, being naïve and good-natured, agreed to carry them both across. Midway across the river, Rat pushed Cat into the water. Then as Ox neared the other side of the river, Rat jumped ahead and reached the shore first. So he claimed first place in the competition and the zodiac.
Following closely behind was strong Ox who was named the 2nd animal in the zodiac. After Ox, came Tiger, panting, while explaining to the Jade Emperor how difficult it was to cross the river with the heavy currents pushing it downstream all the time. But with its powerful strength, Tiger made to shore and was named the 3rd animal in the cycle.
Suddenly, from a distance came a thumping sound, and the Rabbit arrived. It explained how it crossed the river: by jumping from one stone to another in a nimble fashion. Halfway through, it almost lost the race, but the Rabbit was lucky enough to grab hold of a floating log that later washed him to shore. For that, it became the 4th animal in the Zodiac cycle. In 5th place was the Flying Dragon. Of course, the Jade Emperor was deeply curious as to why a swift flying creature such as the Dragon should fail to reach first place. The mighty Dragon explained that he had to stop and make rain to help all the people and creatures of the earth, and therefore he was held back. Then, on his way to the finish, he saw a little helpless Rabbit clinging onto a log so he did a good deed and gave a puff of breath to the poor creature so that it could land on the shore. The Jade Emperor was very pleased with the actions of the Dragon, and he was added into the zodiac cycle. As soon as he had done so, a galloping sound was heard, and the Horse appeared. Hidden on the Horse’s hoof was the Snake, whose sudden appearance gave the Horse a fright, thus making it fall back and giving the Snake the 6th spot, while the Horse placed 7th.
Not long after that, a little distance away, the Goat, Monkey, and Rooster came to the shore. These three creatures helped each other to get to where they are. The Rooster spotted a raft, and took the other two animals with it. Together, the Goat and the Monkey cleared the weeds, tugged and pulled and finally got the raft to the shore. Because of their combined efforts, the Emperor was very pleased and promptly named the Goat as the 8th creature, the Monkey as the 9th, and the Rooster the 10th.
The 11th animal was the Dog. Although he was supposed to be the best swimmer, he could not resist the temptation to play a little longer in the river. Though his explanation for being late was because he needed a good bath after a long spell. For that, he almost didn’t make it to the finish line. Just as the Jade Emperor was about to call it a day, an oink and squeal was heard from a little Pig. The Pig got hungry during the race, promptly stopped for a feast and then fell asleep. After the nap, the Pig continued the race and was named the 12th animal of the zodiac cycle. The Cat drowned in 13th place and did not make it in the zodiac. It is said that that is the reason why Cats always chase Rats; to get back at them for what they have done.
The Chinese new year is a celebration of massive importance and everyone tends to go crazy. It’s similar to the western New Year, but it lasts for a week and people tend to consume an amount of food that increases the average weight of the local population by a good 15%, and beer becomes a replacement for water.
The Chinese new year of course is not just about eating and drinking, it’s a celebration that have been going on for ages (literally) and every city tends to have different customs and ways to welcome the new year.
The coming week for me will be a week of traveling and photography, but I’ll focus more on the people rather than the places. According to a local weather forecast there should be a few sunny days, and that would be a great gift for me and a nice way to welcome our new Horse.
What’s my animal? I’m a monkey. Not the coolest animal of the lot, but it could have been a lot worse, so I got that going for me which is nice (according to the Chinese tradition all animals have some good meaning, but I see them with my European eyes, so Dragon and Tiger would have been a loot cooler).