2020: Year of the Rat

The first week of the spring semester ends with the start of the Chinese New Year. January 25th is the first day of the Lunar New Year, which is the most important Chinese holiday. 2020 is a big year as the Chinese zodiac revolves back to the rat. Welcome everyone to the Year of the Rat!

Chinese New Year is tied with the Chinese zodiac as every year is represented by one of twelve animals that exist on the zodiac. The animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. The cycle goes around to each animal and then revolves back to the starting animal. The first animal in the zodiac, according to legend, is the rat. Legend states that the Jade Emperor, an important traditional Chinese god, called for a race among the animals. The first twelve animals to cross the finish line would be selected to represent each year. The story goes that the rat made a deal with the ox to ride with him in exchange for a song. As the rat and ox came to the finish line as the first ones, the rat jumped ahead and became the first animal on the zodiac, followed by the ox. After that, the rest followed behind. 

There are many different forms of this story. Some say the race was on the ground while others say it was a swimming race. Some stories also include the cat, which is not on the zodiac because the rat forgot to wake the cat for the race. This is why cats chase rats, as they had felt betrayed in the Great Race. Nonetheless, the rat came in first and is thus up again as the New Year zodiac animal for 2020. 

What does it mean for 2020? Well, since the rat came in first place in the race, rats are considered successful. So, 2020 is expected to be a successful year, especially in wealth and reproduction, unless you were born under the rat. It is believed in Chinese culture that one’s own zodiac year can be bad or just not lucky. However, 2020 will be reasonably good to people who are born rats, mostly in finance and education. Mild success for rats is expected. However, it is believed that in the area of health, rats should be careful as sickness is likely for them. It is also not a good year for romance for rats. However, for those who are not born rats, the year is to be an overall success. 

Who are rats? As the zodiac animals repeat themselves every twelve years, anyone who will be turning an age that divides with twelve, is a rat. Recent rat years were 2008, 1996, 1984, and 1972. I was born in 1996 so I am also a rat. Anyone who is a rat is often characterised as being optimistic, energetic, sensitive to other’s emotions, stubborn, and lacking in good communication skills. 

Aside from the zodiac, the Lunar New Year takes on much more for the Chinese. It is, afterall, the longest Chinese holiday. Chinese New Year is also referred to as the Spring Festival as it welcomes spring and new beginnings as the coldest days end. The Spring Festival was used to mark the time of planting and harvests in China. As such, it is a time to pray to the gods for a good harvest season. Families also prayed to their ancestors who are often treated as gods themselves. With praying for prosperity in the new year, there also comes the need to banish evil from ruining the new year. To fight away evil, fireworks and firecrackers are shot off to scare away evil monsters. This tradition dates back to the legend of Nian, who was a monster that would come out at the time of New Year. This monster was scared away by a young boy who used firecrackers to scare it. As such, because of the popularity of this tradition, Chinese New Year’s Eve fires fireworks to scare away evil monsters who wish to bring bad luck. Then, on New Year’s day, fireworks are fired again to celebrate the new year. Aside from fireworks being used to scare away bad luck monsters, the color red is also associated with this tradition. This is why many Chinese decorations and clothes for the New Year are colored red. This is also why children, and also adults, receive red envelopes containing money. It is to bring them good luck and fortune in the New Year. 

Whether you celebrate the Spring Festival or not, it is certainly an interesting holiday to learn about. I wish you all great happiness and prosperity in the New Year. Gong xi fa cai!