What is the Chinese Zodiac?
The lunisolar calendar follows a 12-year cycle that is represented by the Chinese Zodiac, each with its own animal. The Zodiac assigns animal signs based on birth year, which they attribute with personal attributes and premonitions for the new year. The year 2023 falls to the Year of the Rabbit.
The origin story in Chinese folklore goes back to an Emperor who wants 12 animal guards, who raced for the highest order. This was won by a rat (first year). We are now in the fourth animal phase on the Zodiac calendar – the rabbit.
While the Zodiac animals are mostly the same across all cultures that celebrate the holiday, there is one notable difference: in Vietnamese tradition, the fourth animal is the cat, not the rabbit. That means 2023 is both the Year of the Rabbit and the Year of the Cat.
What does Year of the Rabbit mean?
According to the Chinese Zodiac, those born in the Year of the Rabbit are seen as gentle, optimistic, approachable, elegant, and noble.
In Chinese culture, rabbits represent hope, tenderness, and long life. There are also certain signs of ‘luck’ for those born in the Year of the Rabbit:
- Lucky numbers: 3, 4 and 9.
- Lucky colours: red, pink, purple and blue.
- It is associated with those born in the following years: 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011 and 2023.
Vietnamese culture describes people born in the Year of the Cat as clever, confident, driven and flexible in their ways of thinking.
How do people celebrate Chinese and Lunar New Year?
Traditionally, those who celebrate have a large family meal on Lunar New Year’s Eve, and then enjoy the festivities for the following 15 days. People celebrating may incorporate symbolic traditions, such as eating fish, which is associated with wealth, or noodles as a wish for ‘longevity.’
People may also give red envelopes with money inside (hóngbāo) to others for good wishes, set off fireworks and dragon dances to ward off evil spirits (Nian, the monster afraid of red), offer sacrifices to ancestors for protection, reunite with family and enjoy the festivities.
Different countries have separate traditions. For example, in China and Vietnam, the event correlates with the start of spring, so many floral arrangements adorn houses, streets, and venues.
In South Korea, decorative bird decorations like paper cranes are also hung up for longevity and good fortune. While in Tibet, children bring gifts to their elders, and in Mongolia, a pastry tower is made to represent Mount Sumeru - a holy mountain.