You probably know that February 4th, the Chinese New Year, will mark the start of the Year of the Rabbit, odds are you even know the animal for the year you were born in, but do you know the legend behind the animals that mark the passing years?
Much like in Western astrology, the animal signs in Chinese astrology are often perceived as representing how others see you or how you see yourself. There are a few stories about the order of the animals, but the most common seems to be the following.
A long long time ago the Jade Emperor decided that assigning animals to each year would help people remember the Zodiac cycle. He decided to hold a meeting — the first twelve animals to arrive would be featured in the Zodiac in the order of their arrival.
Cat and Rat, who, at the time, were fast friends, were known to be the the worst swimmers in the animal kingdom and to get to the meeting called by the Jade Emperor, they had to cross a river. Cat and Rat put their heads together and decided that the surefire solution to crossing the river was to hop on the back of Ox. Ox, being naïve and good-natured, agreed to carry them both across. Halfway across the river, Rat, giving in to his true nature, pushed cat into the water. Then as Ox neared the other side of the river, Rat jumped off and reached the shore first. He was the first to arrive at the meeting and claimed the first spot in the zodiac.
Ox, arriving just behind was named the second animal in the zodiac. Ox was quickly followed by Tiger who arrived huffing and puffing and complaining about how hard it was to cross the river because of the heavy downstream currents.
The Emperor was surprised to see the Flying Dragon arrive only in fifth place. The mighty Dragon explained that he took the time to stop and make rain to help all the people and creatures of the earth. Then, just as he had almost arrived, he saw a little helpless rabbit clinging to a log. He paused another moment to blow it to the safety of the shore. The Jade Emperor was very pleased with the actions of the Dragon, and named him 5th in the zodiac cycle.
Immediately after the Horse appeared in a thunder of hoof beats. Hidden on the Horse’s hoof was the Snake, whose sudden appearance scared the Horse. The Horse stopped to recover, letting the Snake arrive before him. They were respectfully named 6th and 7th in the zodiac cycle.
The Goat, Monkey, and Rooster arrived next, helping each other move through the reeds to reach the shore on the raft spotted by the Rooster. The Emperor was thrilled with the way they worked together and named them 8th, 9th, and 10th in the cycle.
The 11th animal was the Dog, who had given in to his playful nature and frolicked in the river instead of swimming fast to win the race.
The Emperor waited, but just as he thought the Dog would be last he heard a little oink. The Pig had arrived. He would have been there sooner if not for a short feast to tame his hunger and the ensuing nap. Last, but not least, the Cat finally arrived after the Pig. He was named as the 13th and final animal in both the race and the Zodiac.
Which animal sign were you born under? Do you feel like the animal’s characteristics match yours?