The Year of the Rat – What Does It Mean?

The day when the Chinese New Year is celebrated varies from year to year. On the Western calendar, the day takes place somewhere between late January and late February (01/22–02/22). In 2020, the Chinese New Year was celebrated on January 25, which means that we recently entered the new year – the year of the Rat (in Chinese 鼠 or shǔ). What does this mean?


The Chinese New Year

Besides in China, the Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries with significant Chinese populations. Variations of the festival are celebrated in the sphere of the Chinese cultural influence, like in Korea and Vietnam. The day is determined based on a traditional lunisolar calendar, which causes the fluctuations in the length of the year – the year traditionally starts on a second new moon after the winter solstice. The celebrations and their motivations have varied over the dynasties, but the most important relevance has been that of the onset of spring season (in Finnish climate, this might sound rather funny!). The festivities start days before the actual New Year’s Eve and continue after that, including e.g. worshipping forefathers, buying gifts, shooting fireworks to scare off demons, lighting red lanterns, hanging New Year’s posters and naturally dragons and dancing. 



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The Zodiac

The system where each year is granted an animal figure according to the Chinese zodiac is also followed in countries that have been historically influenced by Chinese culture. The origin of the zodiac system is uncertain. For the Western audience, these animal characters are the most familiar as the ‘Chinese Horoscope’, which is often used similarly to Western Horoscope to determine the basic characteristics of a person born during a given year. However, the animal characters have much more relevancy than just that – also a given year has qualities and features according to the granted animal.

The animals follow each other in a twelve-years cycle, and this year we are once again in the beginning of the circulation. Each year is also assigned an element that affects the personality of the people born that year. 2020 is a year of the metal rat.


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The Year of the Rat

Rats are maybe not very highly considered, at least not in Western cultures, but these gnawers too have surprisingly positive qualities. In Chinese culture, rats are considered to be smart and persistent, as well as a bit of hoarders. Therefore, the Rat as a zodiac animal is associated with wealth and surpluses. In traditional stories, the Rat is usually said to have been schemed his way in to be the first animal in the cycle, the rest of the animals simply having to accept this. According to the myths, the people born on the year of the rat are quick-witted, resourceful, and versatile. The year of the rat is a great period to initiate new projects and take risks. It is the time for new opportunities and utilizing your knowledge and understanding in different, challenging undertakings.

According to a belief, the year of your sign is unlucky rather than lucky, so if you turn 12, 24 or 36 (or any other age that can be divided by 12) this year, you might want to be on your guard – or then just simply don’t give a thing and enjoy your life!



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Sources: (In Finnish) (In English)

Tuikku Ljunberg: Kiinalainen astrologia. Otava, Keuruu, 2005.