Happy Lunar New Year. In most Asian cultures, the Lunar New Year is one, if not the, most important holiday of the year. 2021 marks the year of the Ox, the second of the 12-year periodic sequence of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac. Each animal of the zodiac not only represent the years, but also it is believed to influence people’s personalities, career, compatibility, marriage, and fortune. The Ox is associated with diligence, persistence, and honesty which will manifest itself in all of us over the next 12-months making for the possibility of a better year ahead.
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Have you ever wondered why the animals of the zodiac are ordered the way they are? According to legend, there exists a story of a great race that decided which animals made it into the Zodiac and in what order.
The story goes that the Jade Emperor, who was the ruler of the heavens, asked all the animals to come celebrate his birthday (the ninth day of the first Chinese lunar month) by taking part in a great race. It is said that the animals each had to face a final challenge of crossing a great river in order to reach the finish. To honor the winners, the Jade Emperor decreed that the years on the calendar would be named for each animal in the order that they arrived.
Cat and Rat were the best of friends, and as Cat liked to sleep-in, Rat had agreed to wake Cat up in order to get an early start on the race. The next morning, Rat forgot about his promise, and left without Cat. Because Rat was known to be one of the worst swimmers of the Animal Kingdom, upon reaching the river bank, the quick witted Rat decided that the best and fastest way to cross the river was to hop on the back of Ox who happened to also be at the river's edge. Ox, being honest and of good-nature, agreed to carry Rat across. As Ox neared the other side of the river, Rat jumped ahead and reached the shore first, claiming first place in the race and the zodiac.
Following closely behind was strong Ox who was named the 2nd animal in the zodiac. After Ox, came Tiger, panting, while explaining how difficult it was to cross the river with the heavy currents, but with his powerful strength, Tiger was able to make it to shore and was named the 3rd animal in the cycle. From a distance came a thumping sound, and Rabbit arrived. Rabbit used his agility and skill to cross the river by jumping from one stone to another. For that, Rabbit became the 4th animal in the zodiac. In 5th place was the Flying Dragon. The mighty and swift flying Dragon could have easily reached the finish line first, but Dragon needed to stop and make rain to help all the people and creatures of the earth, and therefore was delayed. Next came the sound of galloping, and Horse appeared. Hidden next to Horse’s hoof was Snake, whose sudden appearance gave Horse a fright, thus making it fall back and giving Snake the 6th spot, while Horse placed 7th. Not long after, the Goat, Monkey, and Rooster came to shore. The three animals helped each other along the way. Rooster spotted a raft, and took Goat and Monkey. Together, Goat and Monkey cleared the weeds, tugged and pulled and finally got the raft to the shore. Because of their combined efforts, Goat came in 8th place followed by Monkey in 9th, and Rooster in 10th. Although Dog was known to be the best swimmer, because he was muddy and dirty from his journey, Dog decided to take a good bath before seeing his master, the Emperor; thus, Dog finished 11th. Soon, an oink and squeal was heard from Pig. During the race, Pig got hungry and stopped for a feast and then fell asleep. After the nap, Pig continued the race and barely crossed the finish line before time was up. Pig became the 12th and final animal of the zodiac.
So what ever happened to Cat? Without being awaken by Rat, Cat overslept, missing his chance to compete, which is why there’s no cat in the zodiac. Hopping mad at his former friend, Cat still holds a grudge against Rat to this day. If you’ve ever wondered why cats hunt rats, now you know.
(To be continued)