January 22 was the official start of the Chinese New Year, which extends to February 9, 2024. Each year is celebrated with a different animal, and each animal cycles through only every 12 years. This year – 2023 – is the Year of the Rabbit. The Rabbit is assuming the place of the Tiger, who retreats to its lair until 2034. Following the Rabbit will be the Dragon in 2024.
Most of us know the Chinese Zodiac through paper place mats in Chinese restaurants, where you could find the year of your birth listed by one of the animals, then compare and contrast that to those of your family and friends. I always thought it interesting that I am a Taurus born in the Year of the Ox. Does this mean I’m doubly stubborn? Or should I take comfort in the stated qualities of persistence, determination, and hard work? Do you know what combination of Western and Eastern signs you are? You will by the end of this article.
Understanding the Chinese Zodiac
Of all the information out there about the origins of the Chinese Zodiac, what I like best is the fable that seems to have survived. It claims that a prominent Emperor declared that 12 animals should race to determine their finishing times, and that would determine their order of importance in the zodiac. The 12 animals were the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat (or Sheep), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Who would you put your money on?
The tale goes that the Rat cheated. It thought the Ox would win and so jumped on its shoulders for most of the race, jumping off at just the right time to cross the finish line first. The Rat thus became the first animal in the zodiac, followed by the others in the order listed above. Supposedly the Pig finished last because it stopped to eat and nap during the race.
Tale or tail or whatever, the 12 animals have been presiding over people’s fortunes for thousands of years. Personality traits are associated with each of the animals, and just like we Westerners take our monthly zodiac sign traits to heart, so do Easterners with their animals. That the animals hold court for a full year and only resurface a dozen years later lends extra importance to their presence.
Here is a description of the signs with the associated birth years going back to 1923 (from the website lifestyleasia.com).
Birth years: 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
Characteristics: Family-oriented, frugal and quick-witted, the Rat is also known to have a good sense of humour and is optimistic. They are a delight to have around and cleverly adapt to any situation.
Birth years: 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Characteristics: Steadfast, relentless and hardworking, an Ox values integrity above everything else. They are always loyal and dependable. There is a chance they might be taken for granted by others due to these qualities and may feel sidelined at times but they always keep going and are rewarded in the end.
Birth years: 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
Characteristics: Passionate and high on energy, the tiger is an impulsive romantic who loves taking risks. The majestic persona also mirrors a huge ego. Not afraid to make mistakes, the tiger doesn’t shy away from trying new things.
Birth years: 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Characteristics: The rabbit hates conflict of any kind and is very affable in nature. Being social creatures that they are, they look for attention and are great in relationships. A rabbit is also known to be even-tempered and artistic.
Birth years: 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
Characteristics: The Chinese consider Dragons to be great leaders. Enthusiastic, result-oriented and independent, they are one of the most popular animals in the zodiac.
Birth years: 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
Characteristics: The Snake is mysterious and can be warm and open but also cold and secretive. Highly intuitive, and compassionate but only to those who unlock this side of them.
Birth years: 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
Characteristics: Carefree and wild, people born in the Year of Horse seldom turn an adventure down. They also like to experiment and surround themselves with many people. They have an infectious energy and can sometimes put people off with their slightly imposing opinions.
Birth years: 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
Characteristics: The Goat has a mild temperament and is known to have a kind heart but do not mistake it to be a pushover for they value their independence and hate compromising.
Birth years: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
Characteristics: The Monkey has an innate ability to lead and is found to be really good at problem-solving. They have a tendency to seek an opportunity which is new and exciting and therefore sometimes stray from their partners.
Birth years: 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029
Characteristics: Flexible and resilient especially in uncomfortable situations, the Rooster loves things to be perfect. They are bound by duty and pride.
Birth years: 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030
Characteristics: Faithful to the core, those born in the Dog years love to do what is expected of them and love to honor their commitments. They are also very detail-oriented, selfless, and giving.
Birth years: 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031
Characteristics: Kind and lovable, Pigs like to keep their circle tight. Usually non-confrontational, they do not shy away from a fight if they are convinced that they are right.
The five elements
Besides the influence of the animals in their birth year, the Chinese Zodiac is also rooted in five elements that are considered influencing energies. They are Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth. Understanding these characteristics and the seasons they best embody also plays into one’s fate per the Zodiac.
Metal is rigid and unmovable. It symbolizes strength and a penchant towards making and obeying rules. Its season is autumn.
Water is creative and full of free-flowing energy. Those under its influence are considered calm and forward-thinking, but can also be destructive. Its season is winter.
Wood is warm, nurturing, and encourages growth. Its season is spring.
Fire is impulsive, passionate, and full of life, with a tendency to be aggressive. Its season is summer.
Earth is dependable, balanced, and consistent. It has both yin and yang energies and so transitions between seasons.
Determining which element relates to you is simple, per this chart:
Metal: The last digit of your birth year is 0 or 1
Water: The last digit of your birth year is 2 or 3
Wood: The last digit of your birth year is 4 or 5
Fire: The last digit of your birth year is 6 or 7
Earth: The last digit of your birth year is 8 or 9
Each animal sign has a fixed element, as well. They are:
Tiger and Rabbit – Wood
Snake and Horse – Fire
Ox, Dragon, Sheep, and Dog – Earth
Monkey and Rooster – Metal
Pig and Rat – Water
And there’s more!
Let’s stay focused on the Year of the Rabbit and those of you who are also Rabbit years. Here’s how your element plays into your personality traits:
• Water Rabbits are kind and can readily adjust to various situations, but they can waffle in their decisions.
• Wood Rabbits are quick-witted and flamboyant, but can be selfish and shrewd.
• Fire Rabbits are smart, flexible, and have a range of interests, but can also be opinionated.
• Earth Rabbits are straightforward, ambitious, and hard-working, but can be reserved.
• Metal Rabbits are amiable and enthusiastic, but can be conservative.
What about 2023?
With all of this in play, how can predictions be made about how an animal sign will play out in people’s lives over the course of a year, much less a lifetime? That’s the fun part. It can be interpreted on so many levels. These summaries are only part of the picture. For the Chinese, each animal has a long cultural and historical significance that plays into what will happen when their years come up.
Getting back to the race that determined the order of the animals in the zodiac, the story goes that part of the terrain to cross was a wide river. The rabbit, it’s told, hopped from stone to stone but fell farther and farther behind. It managed to land on a log that was carried by the current and swept the rabbit to shore in a lucky break. This gives the rabbit a legacy as being opportune, and waiting for just the right time to leap into action. The rabbit is also associated with the moon, as the Chinese say a shadow on the moon portrays a rabbit pounding a pestle of the elixir of life for the moon goddess.
If you’re a Rabbit and this is your Year, you’ll want to do more than sit at the alert with your big eyes and ears and whiskers twitching. Check out what chinesenewyear.net has to say about all things related to your finances, health, love life, and more.
If you want to have fun with the Chinese New Year and the Year of the Rabbit, tap into what the rabbit means to you. Cut out pictures of rabbits and make a collage. Look for rabbits on your walks and notice where they are and what they’re doing. Rethink your relationship with rabbits and your garden. Read stories and poems about rabbits (Watership Down by Richard Adams is one of my favorites!). Say “Rabbit, Rabbit” on the first day of every month (this is an English superstition said to bring good luck).
While the Chinese New Year officially kicked off on January 22, it’s traditionally celebrated for several weeks, through the appearance of the full moon on February 9. Through New Year’s and through the year, enjoy foods considered to bring good luck, like dumplings and spring rolls. Wear red, pink, purple or blue, which are lucky colors associated with the Rabbit. Send greetings and good wishes to Rabbit Year people you know. Think Rabbit thoughts.
Happy Year of the Rabbit!