Friday, January 6, 2006

The Chinese Zodiac

Although it's only January 6th, it's almost time for the new year-- Chinese New Year, that is. Chinese New Year (aka Lunar New Year) begins on January 29th this year. It is the most important holiday in China, indeed in much of Asia. Vietnamese, Koreans, Mongolians and other cultures influenced by the Chinese celebrate this day. The Lunar New Year, or Tết as it is called in Vietnam, is hands down the biggest holiday in Vietnam. Vietnamese typically take an entire month off to spend time with family and prepare for the celebrations. I'll devote another entry to Tết later in the month, but I want to look into a most interesting aspect of the New Year's phenomenon: the Chinese Zodiac.

There are 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac, each animal representing a year in a 12-year cycle. The 12 animal signs are, in order: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit (cat in Vietnam), dragon, snake, horse, sheep (or goat), monkey, rooster, dog and pig (wild boar in Japan). But the animal stuff doesn't end there. Each month has an animal attributed to it (e.g., January being the rat, December being the pig), as well as each hour of the day (e.g., 11pm-1am being the rat, 9pm to 11pm being the pig (Beijing local time)). If that weren't complicated enough, Chinese astrology draws on the position/interaction of natural phemonena. Natural phenomena are grouped into five elements: Water, Wood, Fire, Metal (Gold) and Earth. Taken together, these factors make for 8,640 combinations (5 elements, 12 animals, 12 months, 12 times of day). According to Chinese astrology, it is the position of these five elements and the zodiac sign at the time of your birth that determines your destiny.

All this explains why when you go to a Chinese fortune teller, all you need to him is your date and time of birth. I, for one, can tell you that Chinese fortune tellers can be uncanny. My dad gave my date and time of birth to a very good fortune teller a few years back and, so far, his reading has been spot on. My dad, a real skeptic, had a reading back in the early 70s, which has proved to be too true to be believed.

We are now nearing the end of the year of the rooster. January 29th will mark the beginning of the year of the dog. I'd like to profile each of the 12 animals before the Lunar New Year, but that's pretty ambitious and I may lose interest after a couple animals. Instead, I'll start with the tiger, which happens to be my birth year. To find out your year, click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My grandfather told me this past holiday that for each sign, e.g. rabbit, there are 5 different types of rabbits. So you don't get back to the type of rabbit that you were born until you are 60 years old. That is why the 60th bday is such a big birthday in at least Korean culture....