The Chinese calendar features a cyclical dating method that repeats every 60 years. The calendar is based on two cycles that interact with each other—the Chinese zodiac (divided into 12 parts); and the 5 elements (metal, water, wood, fire & earth).
Each year of the Chinese Zodiac is represented by a different animal: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog & pig. The five elements are assigned to the 12 animals/years, giving different characteristics to each animal/year. Assigning each of the five elements to the 12 years creates 60 different combinations that results in a 60-year cycle!! Many Horoscopes base their predictions on combinations of these beliefs. Legend says that Buddha* invited all the animals to a celebration, and the first to arrive would have a calendar month named after them. The first to arrive was the Rat, as he was the most cunning and sly.
The Year of the Rat = a time of hard work, activity & renewal. The Chinese believe this is a good time to begin a new job, get married or make a fresh start. Opportunity is out there, and patience will bring success. People born in this year are believed to be charming, shrewd, charismatic, ambitious, inventive, hard-working, logical, resourceful, perfectionists, thrifty, easily angered, gossipers, yet very successful. Those born in a Rat year are also respected & considered courageous, enterprising, adaptable & bright. There are thoughts that babies born during this year will grow up to be leaders, pioneers or conquerors.
*Although Buddha is typically the central figure in many stories about the origin of the Chinese Zodiac, some evidence suggests it may predate Buddhism. Early Chinese astronomers devised a system based on the 12-year orbit of Jupiter to tell time. The system included earthly branches, which existed long before Buddhism.
This is also called "Spring Festival" as we all welcome the end of winter - and look forward to a new year with new growth. This is the Chinese character for Spring = chūn 春. We can't wait for the spring-like weather.... but there is still snow & ice on the ground....so it might be awhile!
*check back for more Chinese New Year traditions later next week!