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As you may already know, the Chinese calendar is based on the phases of the moon. and when a new year begins, it brings with it one of the 12 zodiacs. Every 12 years, the sequence begins again. This year (2017) for example, is the Year of the Rooster which will not come around again till 2029. When the animal you were born under comes around again, it becomes an important year when you might consider getting married, buying a house or starting a business. The Chinese zodiac is also important when being compatible with a lover, or considering whether you should have a child. The year you were born in will affect your future and many future parents will consider dates before trying for a baby if the current year is not a positive one.
The Order of the Chinese New Year Animals
There are many interesting myths relating to the 12 zodiacs and where they came from, my favourite being the race between the animals, which gives us the order of the zodiac.
This is the story of the Chinese Zodiac 生肖 (shēng xiào) and how the order came to be.
The Jade Emperor 玉皇 (yù huáng) wanted to celebrate his birthday (Chinese New Year) by designating the 12 signs of the zodiac. He told all the animals on earth that whoever reached the Gates of Heaven the fastest would be the first zodiac, then whoever got there second would be next in the zodiac and so on. All the animals had to cross a river to get to the Gate. At this time, the cat and rat were still good friends and set off together in an attempt to win the race. They found the Ox already making good progress across the river, and after jumping on his back, asked him to take them across the river with him. The Ox was extremely good-natured and allowed them to ride on his back.
However, as they reached the opposite river bank, the rat pushed the cat into the river and jumped on to the ground, reaching the Gate before the Ox. The Jade Emperor congratulated the rat on arriving first, and made the first zodiac the Year of the Rat 鼠年 (shǔ nián).
The Year of the Ox 牛年 (niú nián) became the second zodiac.
The third zodiac was the Year of the Tiger 虎年 (hǔ nián), who had struggled against a current to cross the river, and pleased the Emperor greatly.
Next came the Year of the Rabbit 兔年 (tù nián) who, being unable to swim had hopped from log to stone in order to cross the river.
The fifth zodiac was the Year of the Dragon 龙年 (lóng nián) who flew down to the Gate. The Emperor asked him, why, since he has wings, was the fifth in the race. The kind dragon explained that he had needed to provide drinking water for other animals and had been creating rain.
Next came the horse, but just as he was about to arrive at the Gate, the crafty snake unravelled himself from the horse’s leg and, scaring the horse, make his way to the gate and the Emperor proclaimed the sixth zodiac, Year of the Snake 蛇年 (shé nián), followed by the seventh zodiac, the Year of the Horse 马年 (mǎ nián).
Across the river came a raft carrying the goat, monkey and rooster.The Emperor was happy that the three animals had worked together, and named the eighth, ninth and tenth zodiac’s, Year of the Goat 羊年 (yáng nián), Year of the Monkey 猴年 (hóu nián) and Year of the Rooster 鸡年 (jī nián) respectively.
The eleventh animal to arrive was the Year of the Dog 狗年 (gǒu nián). On his arrival, the Emperor asked him why he was so late. The dog told him that since the water was so clean, he had taken a bath on his way.
Finally, the boar arrived at the gate after having eaten and slept, and the twelfth zodiac became the Year of the Boar 猪年 (zhū nián).
Unfortunately, since the rat had pushed him into the river, the cat arrived last and was unable to become part of the calendar. From that day on, rats and cats have been mortal enemies.
If you’ve heard other myths and stories about the Chinese New Year Animals, share them with us below! If you want to find out more about your own Year, take a look at the post about the Chinese Zodiac and each animal’s personality traits.