The New Year Celebrations are important in China. Each year is represented by an animal and works through a 12-year cycle. 2019 is important because it’s the final year of this cycle.
There are 12 Chinese zodiac signs, in the following order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each sign is named after an animal, and each animal has its own unique characteristics.
How was this order decided? There are lots of stories, and each one has regional variations. My favourite pits each animal against each other in a race. But, how on earth can a rabbit compete against a tiger? A rat against a horse? Or anything against a dragon?
Well, read on…
According to legend, a long time back, deep in the mists of time. . .
The Jade Emperor held a race to see who would be the 12 Guardians of the Heavens and decided to hold a race. Each contender would have to cross a wide, churning river. The Emperor was fair. He knew some animals were stronger, others faster, other neither strong nor fast, but all had equal worth. And so, there were no rules. Each animal could use their own strengths to help them.
The Rat and the Ox
Rat was first to the river but knew he couldn’t cross alone. He needed help. Next up came Ox. Big and strong, and used to crossing wild rivers, the Ox just plunged in. Seeing his chance, Rat jumped upon his back and was carried safely across. Once on the shore, he nipped ahead and crossed first. Ox came second and was very good natured about the whole thing.
Tiger and Rabbit
Tiger was next, and sprang into the river, using his strength and courage to get him across. Rabbit couldn’t fight the current, but he hopped from log to stone and log until he got to the other side. His speed got him fourth place.
Dragon came up next. The Emperor was puzzled with his favourite didn’t win. Dragon explained he had seen a village on fire and had rushed in to help.
Snake and Horse
Snake and Horse was neck and neck. Horse had used his strength and vigour to get across the raging river, whereas snake had used his curious body to wiggle through the water, and also used the stones and logs that had helped rabbit. Just the finish line, Snake startled Horse and crossed the line first.
Goat, Monkey and Cockerel
Cockerel found a raft in the bushes, and, together with Goat and Monkey, they battled across the river.
Gentle and kind, Goat coordinated the effort, so Monkey and Cockerel let him be next. Monkey,
who had had the choice to swing high in the branches of the trees that lined the shore, crossed next, because he stuck by his friends. Cockerel, whose find had helped everyone get across safely, was content to let his friends go first.
Dog bounded after. He’d had so much fun playing and splashing in the water; he’d let Cockerel slip by.
Who then, came in last?
This year’s star, the Pig!
Pig was strong, but the route had lots of tempting smells, and he had become hungry. He snuffled and snorted through rich truffles and had a little nap after. Waking, he realised he might never get a place, so he hurried along and swam across the river, paddling madly.
He trundled across the finish line, marking the last of the Heavenly Guardians.
These 12 animals became guards of the Heavenly Gate.