If the Western calendar is linear in nature, the Lunar Calendar is cyclical, running in five 12 year cycles. These comprise two factors.
The first are the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. The second are and the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Thus it takes 60 years for one cycle to run its complete course.
So how did this all come about? According to legend, there were 12 animals, all wanting to lead the cycle. The gods were asked to settle the dispute, and they told the animals to race across the river. The first one to reach the other side would lead the cycle.
The animals all dove into the river and started to swim. Knowing that the ox was the strongest swimmer, the crafty rat jumped on his back. Just as the ox was about to reach shore, the rat jumped over his head, winning the race. Thus the rat leads the cycle, the ox comes second, the tiger third, and so forth. The slovenly pig, meanwhile, came in last.
Today is the second day of the Year of the Ox. In traditional Chinese society, daughters left home upon marriage to live with their in-laws. They had few opportunities to visit their birth parents. According to tradition, they returned home on the second day of the new year to be with them.
Copyright: Michael Taylor
Pictured: Lai Heen Chinese Restaurant
Photo Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton, Guangzhou, China