Happy Lunar New Year: Here’s an overview of the 12 Chinese Zodiac

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Tomorrow marks the first day of the Lunar New Year celebration in Asia.

It is also known as the Spring Festival, Seollal (in Korea) and Tet Nguyen Dan (in Vietnam).

The holiday preparations for the new year began Jan. 17 and festivities will conclude with the Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao (元宵节—yuán xiāo jié) Feb. 8. This day is also known as the true Chinese Valentine’s Day and is celebrated with family reunions and traditions.

For each new lunar new year, one of 12 zodiacs is celebrated.

Much like the 12 zodiacs in astrology, these are similar except lunar new year operates on a lunisolar-year-to-year basis instead of a month-to-month.

The 12 zodiacs were derived from an ancient Chinese legend whereby the Jade emperor held a race for against 13 animals and said that the years on the calendar would be marked in accordance with the order in which the finishers placed. This event became known as ‘The Great Race.”

The rat placed first in the race because it hopped on the back of the ox and leaped to the finish line. The pig stopped to munch on a snack and take a rest and thereby finished last.

The thirteenth animal in the race was a cat, but it drowned.

The order in which the animals placed in the race is the order in which we celebrate them in each year. When the zodiac falls in your own year, it is known to be the most unfortunate.

If your birthday falls during 21 January and February 20 in Gregorian date, you may belong to the zodiac sign of the last year. 

Here is an overview of zodiac traits adapted from Chinese New Year.

Rat ( 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020 )

This year, we celebrate the rat. People born in this year are characterized as intelligent, resourceful and quick-witted, much like that of the rat who won the race. Some of their weaknesses include being stubborn, timid and greedy.

Ox (1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021)

In Chinese culture, the Ox is a valued animal. Because of its role in agriculture, positive characteristics, such as being hardworking and honest, are attributed to it.

Tiger ( 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022 )

In Chinese culture, tigers are viewed as the guardian of children. Infants and babies wear shoes and hats with tiger designs to protect against evil spirits.

Rabbit ( 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023 )

In Chinese culture, rabbits represent the moon. Some say it is because the shadows of the moon resemble a rabbit. To outsiders, the Rabbit’s kindness may make them seem soft and weak, but in reality, the Rabbit’s quiet personality hides their confidence and strength.

Dragon ( 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024 )

Dragons are the most revered animal in Chinese culture. They call themselves the descendants of the dragon. In the past, emperors were seen as the reincarnation of dragons.

Snake (1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025)

Snakes are humorous and sophisticated. They don’t like small talk or thinking about small everyday problems.

In a chaotic environment, they are the eye of the storm. Snakes are able to hold their ground and calmly think of solutions.

Horse (1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026)

Horses are full of energy, albeit a bit too much. Both studious and athletic, they are strong believers of chasing after dreams. Rather than wealth and fame, happiness is what motivates them. They expect others to operate at the same speed as them and don’t understand why others can’t.

Goat (1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027)

Goats are able to persevere through any difficulty. This is their most notable trait. They are strong and resilient, though their gentleness might be misleading.

Monkey ( 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028 )

Monkeys’ most defining trait is their intelligence. As children, they win awards and the praises of teachers. As adults, they gain professional recognition and make great leaders.

Rooster (1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029)

Roosters are serious in their work. They are straightforward and decisive in their actions. They’ll directly criticize what they see unfit and are perfectionists. They are logical and good at managing teams.

Dog ( 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030)

Honest and just, they are popular in social circles. Everyone needs a Dog friend for advice and help. They are also good at helping others find and fix their bad habits.

Pig (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031)

They are energetic and are always enthusiastic, even for boring jobs. If given the chance, they will take positions of power and status. They believe that only those people have the right to speak, and that’s what they want.

If you’d like to learn some phrases to say around this time of year in Chinese here’s a starter:

1. 新年快乐 / 新年快樂 (xīn nián kuài lè) “Happy New Year!”

In Mandarin: /sshin-nyen kweye-luh/

In Cantonese:  /san nin fai lok/

2. 新年好 / 新年好 (Xīn nián hǎo) “New Year goodness!” 

In Mandarin: /sshin-nyen haoww/

In Cantonese: /sen-nin haow/ 

3. 恭喜发财 / 恭喜發財 (Gōngxǐ fācái) “Happiness and prosperity!” 

In Mandarin: /gong-sshee faa-tseye/  

In Cantonese: Kunghei fatchoy /gong-hey faa-chwhy/ 

4. 步步高升 / 步步高陞 (Bùbù gāoshēng)  “A steady rise to high places!” / “on the up and up”

In Mandarin: /boo-boo gaoww-shnng /  

In Cantonese: /boh-boh goh-sshin /

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