The Year of the Rabbit

The lunar calendar and Chinese zodiac

Even if you only celebrate the New Year on January 1st, you may be familiar with the Chinese New Year. In the U.S. even those who don’t celebrate the lunar new year know about Chinese zodiac signs tied to it: the rat, the ox, the tiger…and the rabbit! This lunar year, January 22nd, 2023, will start the year of the rabbit, and there’s a lot to learn about the new year and the symbols attached!

How does the lunar year work?

The date of the Chinese New Year changes every year, and there’s a good reason why. The calendar that determines the lunar new year is the old Chinese calendar (modern China uses the Gregorian calendar for day-to-day business like the U.S.) Though the Chinese calendar may be called “lunar” casually, it is a lunisolar calendar. That means the dates of the calendar are determined by both the phases of the moon and the position of the sun.

To do this, the astronomers or astrologers who standardize the calendar to keep everyone on the same date observe the phases of the moon. During a specific moon phase one month changes to the next. The month for the Chinese lunar calendar is from one new moon to the next.

This is slightly less time, than the Gregorian months–January, February, etc. The lunar year is slightly shorter than the year used internationally for most day-to-day activities. That means the New Year would occur before January 1st. Then, it would occur earlier than that date the next year.

This would result in a calendar in which the days do not remain in line with the season. March 1st would eventually occur during the winter on that system. The Chinese calendar is lunisolar because there are rules that adjust the length of the year to make up for this. Though the rules are different, they function similarly to February 29th, used in the Gregorian calendar for leap years.

This way, the Chinese New Year always happens somewhere between January and February. It is also sometimes called the spring festival, as it marks an approximate midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, making it a time to celebrate the season’s change.

Since the Chinese zodiac sign is associated with that year, readers born in January and February should check the date of the Chinese New Year for the year they were born; if you were born before the Chinese New Year, you may have the sign right before the one you thought!

Image by Freepik

What are Rabbits like?

The origin of the twelve-animal zodiac is tied to multiple similar stories, with some elements varying. The heavenly Jade Emperor, or Buddha, invite the animals to a feast or race across a river, and the order in which they arrive at the feast or finish line determines the order they came in the zodiac.

This means the rabbit was the fourth arrival! The way each animal acts represents the actions that are associated with those born in their years. The rabbit is competitive, though it does not win. It navigates stones and logs in the river to hop to the other side. Rabbits are multi-talented, alert and quick-witted, honest, and peaceful. The rabbit is attentive to its opportunities to jump forward and is skilled enough not to fall into the river. 

The loveability of the real-life rabbit is visible in associated ideas of likeability for those born in rabbit years. Rabbits can be considered affectionate, and their kind temper and sincerity can be misread as weakness when their skill isn’t being shown off. 

Every year comes with an element as well as an animal, in a cycle of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. These enhance certain aspects of the year’s animal. In 2023, we end the year of the water tiger and begin the year of the water rabbit.  Water, for example, is appropriately fluid, promoting softer and more fluid traits.

For rabbits, water can intensify their honesty and openness in a way that does lead to them being more susceptible to outside influences. Focusing on developing independence can draw on the rabbit’s inherent confidence and aid them in avoiding this pitfall. This increased openness isn’t only a risk, however; the rabbit’s natural social success can be even stronger for water rabbits. Michael Jordan is a famous water rabbit, born on February 17, 1963.

Other animals for 2023

In many of the countries near China, there are similar zodiac systems. Those systems do not always share the same animals, though. The animals are the same across the Chinese, Korean (South and North), Singaporean, and Cambodian. But in some other countries, the rabbit is replaced with another animal.

Vietnamese. In the Vietnamese zodiac, the rabbit is replaced with the cat. One explanation for this difference is that the word rabbit in Chinese “卯兔” (mǎo tù) sounded like the Vietnamese word for cat, pronounced “meo”.

Gurung. For the Gurung people in Nepal, the rabbit is similarly replaced by the cat. 

Interestingly, there is a folk tale explaining why the cat is not one of the animals present. In some stories, the cat and the rat were both riding the ox across the river, and the rat pushed the cat into the water. The cat did not get out in time to be one of the 12 animals selected by the emperor. In other versions, the rat lied to the cat about the time, causing the cat to, again, be late.

Another practical reason there may be no cat in the Chinese zodiac is that cats were not yet present in China as the concept was developing.

Malay. The fourth position of the Malay zodiac is filled by the mouse-deer.

Mouse-deer are native to Malaysia. A significant set of fables has a mouse-deer, Sang Kancil, overcoming obstacles with more powerful animals through wit, sharing cleverness with the rabbit. As a significant figure in traditional stories, it makes sense that this animal would become part of the system.

Burmese. There are only eight signs in the Burmese zodiac, assigned to the days of the week, with Wednesday split in two (as an elephant with tusks, then without). In this system, the rabbit is not present.

Are there really only 12 personalities?

Of course not! 12 years times 5 elements equals 60!

Joking aside, while it may seem to be what the zodiac implies, that’s not really the case in how astrology has been understood historically. The year in the Chinese zodiac indicates a baseline, but it is more complicated!

When it comes to predictions, matchmaking, and other uses for astrology, more factors are taken into account by those who have learned the in-depth forms of these systems; the inherent differences between each and every birth time result in unique, individual horoscopes when all factors are considered. Thorough astrology takes a lot of math!

What year were you born? Do you think your element and animal represent you? Do you know your Western zodiac sign? Which do you think is more accurate?

*This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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