Year of the Rabbit
2023/05/09 | By Sandra Silva | Photo by Unsplash
An estimated two billion people celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year (or Spring Festival) around the world but what is the connection between this event and animals? We look at the traditions and superstitions associated with the Chinese zodiac and, the Year of the Rabbit.
Legend has it that Chinese Lunar New Year festivities stem from an ancient battle against a terrifying beast called the Nian (which sounds like ‘year’ in Mandarin) that showed up every New Year’s Eve. The Nian (sometimes depicted as a fierce lion) would eat crops, kill livestock, and terrorise people. After discovering the Nian was afraid of loud noises and the colour red, locals began creating their own ‘monster’ with red paper and bamboo, donned red clothing, and set off loud firecrackers to scare him away.
Chinese Lunar New Year starts on the second new moon after the winter solstice. In Chinese culture today, the Lunar New Year (or Spring Festival) signifies a time for family, reunion and enjoying meals together with ‘lucky’ dishes like fish (for prosperity), dumplings and spring rolls (wealth); orange fruit (fullness); noodles (happiness and longevity) and special sweet rice cakes called nian gao (higher income and position). Children receive red envelopes containing money to wish them health, growth, and good studies for the coming year.
But despite these positive associations with Chinese Lunar New Year, there are also certain things to avoid like washing or cutting one’s hair (seen as washing away one’s future) or buying books (considered an invitation for bad luck as the Mandarin word for ‘book’ sounds the same as the word for ‘lose’).
Chinese Lunar New Year can continue for up to two weeks! The last evening of the celebration is marked by the Lantern Festival where beautiful lanterns (paper or otherwise) are lit in temples and homes or carried during a night parade. It’s believed this particular tradition dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) when Buddhist Monks honoured Buddha by lighting lanterns.
Chinese Lunar New Year follows the Chinese zodiac calendar which has a 12-year cycle. Each new (Lunar) year is represented by an animal with its own attributes and cultural meaning and is believed to have come from zoolatry (worship of animals). According to legend, the Jade Emperor (crown Prince of the Kingdom of Pure Felicity and Majestic Heavenly Lights and Ornaments) wanted to select twelve animals to be his guards and summoned all creatures on earth to participate in a race to his palace. The emperor then created the Chinese zodiac based on the order by which the animals arrived.
It is said the cat and rat travelled together on the ox’s back but as the ox crossed a river, the rat pushed the cat into the water and then claimed first place by jumping off the ox’s back and dashing to the feet of the emperor. So, the ox became the second animal in the Chinese zodiac followed by the tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.
These animals are also found in the zodiacs of South Korea, North Korea, Singapore, and Cambodia but in Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar, the animals – and their order – differ slightly.
2023 is the Year of the Rabbit – the fourth animal in the twelve-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac – and is a period symbolised by hope. Back in the days of the Jade Emperor, it is said the rabbit set off a day early to reach the palace but when it got there, no other animals had yet arrived. Thinking it was ‘assured victory,’ the rabbit went for a little nap but upon waking, discovered three other animals (rat, ox, tiger) had already shown up and so had to be content with fourth place.
The Year of the Rabbit symbolises longevity, peace, and prosperity so 2023 is predicted to be a year of hope. Those born in the Year of the Rabbit are thought to be gentle, quiet, elegant, eloquent, friendly, witty, patient, and responsible and tend to be successful in the field of art, music, architecture, literature, translation, public relations, and business consultation.
Away from rabbits, the key attributes of the other eleven Chinese zodiac animals are:
o Rat: Quick-witted, resourceful, kind.
o Ox: Diligent, dependable, determined.
o Tiger: Brave, competitive, unpredictable.
o Dragon: Confident, intelligent, enthusiastic.
o Snake: Enigmatic, intelligent, wise.
o Horse: Animated, active, energetic.
o Goat: Calm, gentle, sympathetic.
o Monkey: Sharp, smart, curious.
o Rooster: Observant, hardworking, courageous.
o Dog: Lovely, honest, prudent.
o Pig: Compassionate, generous, diligent.
Each animal of the Chinese zodiac also has its own fortuitous symbols regarding numbers, colours and flowers, and directions. For those born in the Year of the Rabbit, auspicious numbers are three, four and nine; the best colours red, pink, purple and blue; and the luckiest flowers jasmine and lilies.
If we consider directions, those born in the Year of the Rabbit will find the best fortune in the east, south and northwest, and have the most luck in January, April, August, and November. That said, individuals born in the Year of the Rabbit are advised to avoid numbers one, seven and eight and the colours brown, dark yellow and white to attract the most luck.
But whichever Chinese zodiac animal you happen to be, wishing you a very happy 兔年! (Year of the Rabbit).
Did you know?
The dragon is the most coveted sign in the Chinese zodiac with births in China peaking in dragon years.
Celebrations for Chinese Lunar New Year have been held in The Hague [Chinatown] since 2002. Dances, traditional music, acrobatics, and different forms of martial arts are exhibited in the heart the city. Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Almere also mark the annual event.
About the author:
Sandra Silva is a Portuguese teacher and city guide living in Almere who is passionate about photography, travel, art, history, and storytelling.
www.sandrastours.nl | @sandrastoursnl