By Ivy Cox, Certified Lifecycle Celebrant
Gong xi fa cai!
February 16, 2018 marks the beginning of the Year of the Dog. The date changes every year since the traditional Chinese calendar is based on lunar cycles. Even though China uses the Gregorian, or solar-based, calendar for most official and business purposes, the lunar calendar is used to determine the dates for traditional festivals, agricultural plans and Chinese zodiac horoscopes. So anyone born this year before February 16 is actually a Rooster!
The Chinese zodiac, or shengxiao (“born resembling”), repeats every twelve years in this order: Mouse (or Rat), Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. How did the tiny Mouse come in first? It’s an interesting tale of guile.
A long, long time ago, people asked the Jade Emperor of the Heavens for guidance on how to mark their calendars. He pondered with care and decided that having the years represented by different animals would make it easy to remember.
In order to select twelve animals for this important post, the Jade Emperor decided to hold a swim meet. All the animals were super excited about the contest — hoping to be one of the first twelve to cross the river.
Back then, Mouse and Cat were best friends. Since they are both smaller in stature, they decided to ask Ox to wake them up early to get a head start. So the trustworthy and considerate Ox woke them up before the crack of dawn and carried Mouse and Cat on his back. They were the first three to reach the river!
Since Cat and Mouse don’t really swim, Ox offered to take them across the river.
“Woohoo! We’ll be the first three to win the race!” Said Cat.
But Mouse selfishly wanted to be first and did not want Cat to run ahead of him once they go ashore. So he nestled up to Cat and said, “Look, buddy! Isn’t the view beautiful from the river’s center?”
While Cat was craning his neck to admire the view, Mouse pushed as hard as he could. SPLASH! Cat fell into the water.
When the diligent Ox reached the shore, he thought he’d get first place! Then he felt a tiny breeze brush past him. It was Mouse! Ox came in second but was not happy with the sly and disingenuous Mouse.
Next came speedy Tiger, hopping Rabbit and celestial Dragon, who would have been first if he didn’t have to tend to a storm. Chinese dragons, symbolizing strength and auspiciousness, have power over water-related phenomenon such as rain, typhoons, and floods.
Then came Snake and Horse. Goat, Monkey and Rooster found a piece of drift wood and floated across the river together. They were followed by playful Dog, who took 11th place because he had too much fun splashing!
The race was almost over! Who will come in 12th? Pig trudged along and asked, “where’s the chow?”
As the Jade Emperor bestowed the honor of shengxiao to Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig, a drenched and unhappy Cat walked up. He wearily asked, “What place did I get?”
When the Jade Emperor apologetically told Cat that he did not place, Cat arched his back and went after Mouse. The two have been mortal enemies ever since.
Different cultures have different origin stories about how things came to be. People used their imaginations to explain what they observed and perhaps couldn’t explain. We can draw on these traditions to understand our histories and foster our own imaginations. This is what I love about Celebrancy — the inherent beauty of such story-telling serves as the foundation of great ceremonies.