Today’s Mystery is all about the Lunar New Year! This is the festival better known as the ‘Chinese New Year’ or ‘Spring Festival’, but it is really celebrated by several other Asian countries. In South Korea, it’s known as Sollal (설날). In Vietnam, Tết or Tết Nguyên Đán. The Spring Festival also lasts longer than the western celebrations – in China it will extend for 7 days this year . . . it was longer last year because of the virus.
In any event, if your year hasn’t been going particularly well or if you want a second crack at those New Year’s resolutions – now’s the time! Start fresh!
So today, we’re all about the Chinese animals, since today (February 12) we get to say goodbye to the Year of the Rat 🐭 (yes, the rats brought us the plague once again 😂) and now welcome in the Year of the Ox 🐂!
According to ancient Chinese astrology, they discovered in their studies of the stars that the Earth requires twelve years to once again pass Jupiter in the sky. Thus, instead of centering their time around decades, the Chinese use a twelve-year system. This matches what they understand of the rest of time given that they then divided the day into twelve periods. Even in the west, we use 24 hours, a multiple of 12! There are also twelve months in the year – although the lunar months are a bit different from our Gregorian calendars 🤷♀️.
Since twelve was such an important element of time for the Chinese, quite a bit of mythology arose around these special time frames. The story goes something like this. . . .
Once upon a time, there lived in the heavens the most powerful of all the gods – the Jade Emperor. The Jade Emperor was selected by his predecessor Yuanshi Tianzun to take over his task and govern the universe and maintain order where there would be chaos. He is a highly respected figure and appears in much of Chinese and Korean mythologies. If it helps, his father was the King of the Pure Felicity Kingdom of Lofty Heavenly Majestic Lights and Ornaments and his mother was the Empress of Precious Moonlight (Nations Online) – quite a heritage to grow up under 👏 We are impressed!
On this particular day, the Jade Emperor was looking for new bodyguards to help protect and represent each of the twelve sections of time. He decided to choose twelve animals from the world and send out an announcement far and wide welcoming all participants. There was a caveat though . . . their order or rank of importance would depend upon who reached the Heavenly Gates first. First come, highest ranked! This launched what is known as ‘The Great Animal Race’ or ‘The Heavenly Gate Race.’
Twelve animals answer the call of the Emperor – the Dragon, Horse, Tiger, Ox, Rat, Snake, Rooster, Dog, Monkey, Rabbit, Pig, and Goat. But who would come first?!
The Ox in particular is a reliable creature who continues on regardless of burden or hardship. He was an early riser and kept to his path without turning left or right, steady in his journey. The Rat also set out early, but found himself particularly stuck at a busy rushing river. He was too small to fight the waters and might not have made it. He met the Tiger and Horse along the riverside as well, but both refused to help him wanting to get the the gates first themselves. So on he went until he stumbled across Ox who was crossing the river at that moment. The Ox was much kinder and allowed Rat to hid in his ear while they rode across the river steadily. Unfortunately for Ox, the Rat was not so kind and upon reaching the other side, he jumped off without so much as a ‘Thank You’ and raced the last couple of steps faster than the Ox trod. Therefore, the Rat came in first followed by the Ox.
Swift on their heels came Tiger and Rabbit – both fast and determined to reach the gates as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for Rabbit, tiger was quite a bit faster and he managed to reach the Gates earlier. Rabbit had been slowed down by the river also, and being small like the Rate, he had to find his own way across. Luckily for him, there were stepping stones strewn across, and Rabbit was able to hop from one to the other until he suddenly ended up in the river! Luckily for him, he grabbed a floating log and found himself mysteriously pushed to the far side. He then raced after the tiger’s heels coming in fourth on the list.
Next to arrive were the Snake, the Dragon, and the Horse. Technically, the Dragon might have come first and he could easily fly directly to the Gates – but he was kind and had stopped to help a village that had caught on fire. Returning on course, he saw the poor Rabbit floating on the log downstream and flew behind blowing him back to the riverbank. Thus it was the Rabbit was able to beat the Dragon, but the Dragon was content with this. Now the Dragon was incredibly attractive and easily caught the attention of the Jade Emperor. The Emperor in fact was so impressed with the Dragon that he initially promised him that the Dragon’s son could also be sixth! Alas, the child had not come with the Dragon on that particular day, which the Snake took advantage of. Arriving close on the Dragon’s tail (pun intended 😂), the Snake slyly told the Emperor he was the Dragon’s son. Looking quite similar if perhaps smaller, the Snake was believed and thus made his way sixth on the rankings.
*Note: Asian dragons are different from Western dragons. Unlike their European cousins, they don’t have wings and instead are more like horned snakes sliding through the sky.
What happened to the Horse, you ask? Poor Horse! He was just about to reach the Gates after the Dragon, but had not realized that the Snake was right behind him. He saw the Snake slithering in the corner of his eye and it scared the Horse so badly, he reared back in fright and the Snake was able to complete the race first! Sneaky Snake!
Now the Jade Emperor looking out to see how the rest of the animals were faring and was startled to see a raft making its way across the river! On board were the Rooster, Monkey, and Sheep helping one another to paddle across. The three were eager to finish the race but did not particularly care in what order they came, happy to have accomplished their purpose regardless of their ranking. Upon reaching the shore, they decided finally the Sheep would be first because he had been the most helpful and friendliest of their group. The Jade Emperor agreed and named the Monkey and Rooster in order respectively.
By this point, the day was almost over so what happened to the last two animals? Unsurprisingly to anyone who has ever owned a dog or pig, they were easily distracted and had little to no interest in the race itself. The Dog was thrilled to find the river as he loved to splash around. He spent much of the day swimming and chasing sticks along the riverbank, and only showed up at the end of day to come in Eleventh. The Pig was slower even still having stopped to eat along the way. Of course after a good meal, he found himself in need of a nap (don’t we all) and spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping. The Jade Emperor was just about to give up when the Pig finally came trotting in. With this, the race came to an end and the animals all had their proper places!
Now that the animals were ranks and in order, the Chinese Zodiac was fully formed. According to Chinese astrology, each person is born into a particular year, and that helps to determine your fate or how your life might work. For example, as a Snake I am though to be particularly compatible with persons born in the year of the Ox or Rooster. People born in the year of the snake are considered intelligent and crafty, perhaps overly ambitious, and loyal friends but deadly enemies. Of course, there is also the fact that the Snakes themselves cycle through the five elements (Fire, Earth, Gold, Water, Wood) every five ‘snake years’. Born in 1977? – Water Snake. Born twelve years later in 1989? – Earth Snake. The elements are also key and can influence your luck or fortune. Then there’s the secondary zodiac which is the hour in which you were born. Each animal also represents an hour, so if you were born in the evening at 7:00pm, you might have a secondary Rooster element.
It’s all very confusing 😂 But many people in Asia (particularly China) are every bit as much aware of their Chinese Zodiac animals as many are of their Western Zodiac (Are you a Capricorn? Cancer? Leo?). They may plan their weddings or births for certain years, and dictate their spouses based on when they were born. Few are die-hard followers anymore, but ever Lunar New Year out come the new animal decorations and the world goes abuzz once again with the animal of the year.
This leads us to our Mystery of the Day – What’s YOUR Chinese Zodiac Animal?!
Usually, you can tell by the year . . . but since it is lunar-based, people born in January – February may need the calculator below to see when the Lunar Year changed. Let us know your results in the comments!