It’s the Chinese New Year. Kung Hei Fat Choy (Cantonese).

BreakingModernKung Hei Fat Choy!

Chinese New Year follows the lunar calendar and typically occurs between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20. This year it falls on Thursday, Feb. 19. Like any other cultural New Year’s celebration around the world, Chinese New Year varies slightly depending on its geographic neighbors.

Year of the Sheep

chinese new year sheepThis year celebrates the Sheep — also known as the Year of the Goat or Year of the Ram, depending on your culture. As with astrology, the animal signs represent not what others perceive you as being, but are assigned by the year you are born.

To make it slightly more confusing, there are also animal signs assigned by the month known as the “inner animals,” by the day known as “true animals” and by the hour known as the “secret animals.” This means that even if you are born in the year of the Rabbit, you can have the traits of a Dragon internally, an Ox truly and a Tiger secretly. Most people simplify this process by stating what animal year they were born.

That said, people born in the year of the Sheep are (supposed to be) tender, polite, filial, clever and kindhearted. Overall, they are sensitive and gentle, but are often worriers and shy.

chinese new year zodiac

In brief, the Animals of the Chinese Zodiac Include:

  • Rats, who are generally known to be ambitious, intelligent and sociable, but can also be manipulative, cunning and self-destructive.
  • The Ox is diligent and dependable. The Ox is known for his/her strength and determination. Though they are incredibly hard working, an Ox has poor communication skills and can be incredibly stubborn.
  • Tigers are brave and confident, as well as competitive and self-confident, yet they can be irritable and overindulgent.
  • Rabbits (me) are thought to be gentle, elegant and patient, with a penchant for responsibility, but reluctant to reveal what is truly on their minds and they tend to escape reality.
  • Dragons are confident and tenacious. They are enthusiastic and not afraid of challenges. Unfortunately, they can appear aggressive and not always open to criticism.
  • Snakes, on the other hand, are known as the most enigmatic animal in the zodiac. Snakes are generally the most intuitive and act according to their own judgments. They prefer to work alone and can be easily stressed.
  • Horses are constantly active, energetic and animated. They are sociable and enjoy being in a crowd, but can be self-centered at times.
  • Monkeys are witty and intelligent, tend to have a magnetic personality and are often curious. Their mischievousness tends to lead to pranks that result in hurting the feelings of others.
  • Roosters are observant and hardworking and are often resourceful and courageous. Outspoken and active, they don’t appreciate being spoken over, which generally leads to bragging about accomplishments.
  • Dogs are loyal and honest. They are amiable and lean toward cautiousness, but can often criticize sharply.
  • Pigs are diligent and compassionate and are very focused and determined in accomplishing goals. Pigs are known for being open-minded and think the best of people, so they are easily fooled by trickery.

chinese new year dragon featured

The Great Race

Depending on which ancient folk story you follow or believe, the Dog and Cat are interchangeable. The best-known version of The Great Race begins with the Jade Emperor summoning all the animals to a meeting at the palace. The Emperor decrees that the years on the calendar will be named for each animal in the order they arrive. The Cat and Rat decide that the quickest way to cross the river is to hop onto the back of the Ox, who is good-natured enough to carry them over.

Halfway across the river, the Rat pushes the Cat into the strong currents of the river. In other tales, the Rat deceives the Cat by telling it the meeting will be held the following day instead. This explains why cats hate rats. To make a long story short, Rat is first, Ox reaches the palace second, followed by Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep (Goat/Ram), Monkey and Rooster. Dog is the eleventh animal because in most stories it could not resist the temptation of playing in the river. The Pig finishes the race last.

Cultural Traditions

chinese new year sunsetDuring this time of year, homes are cleaned from top to bottom in order to sweep away any ill fortune that has built up throughout the year and to make way for a new year and new luck. This is when old items that have accumulated over the course of the year are donated or passed along, or in some cases hoarded for another year “because you never know when you’ll need it,” according to my parents. It’s essentially the Chinese version of “spring cleaning.”

Once cleaned, the house is decorated with red paper cutouts, which symbolize good fortune and happiness. The color red is used to ward off evil spirits, and it also traditionally signifies future wealth and longevity of life. In setting up for Chinese New Year, families with an alter (a red shrine dedicated to a loss of a loved one) clean it and set it up for another year.

Amongst eating too much and celebrating with family, the red packet (hong bao or lai see), is typically distributed by married couples (usually aunts, uncles or grandparents) to younger children. The packet contains money varying in amounts and generally depends on who’s giving it to whom (an aunt to a nephew, versus a doting grandparent to their grandchild).

For me, Chinese New Year once meant big parties with a dancing dragon or lion and firecrackers — and it still does to an extent. But mostly it now involves spending a quiet night indoors and relaxing with my parents and brother.

Wishing everyone a wonderful and brilliant New Year!

For Bmod, I’m .

Three first images: Cassandra Chin

Bottom image: 20100720 Fukuoka Kushida 3614 M” by Jakub HałunOwn work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.

Cassandra Chin

Author: Cassandra Chin

Based in Toronto, Cassandra covers fitness, apps and books for BreakingModern. Follow her @cchin01

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