By Andy Khong
Year of the Rabbit: 22nd January 2023 to 9th February 2024
In 2023 Chinese New Year (CNY) falls on 22nd January – being the Year of the Water Rabbit.
A long, long time ago, the Jade Emperor organized a zodiac race across a river, and invited all the animals in the world to take part. Twelve animals turned up: a pig, dog, rooster, monkey, sheep, horse, snake, dragon, rabbit, tiger, ox, and rat. As a reward for turning up, the Emperor named a year in the zodiac after each animal while the race across a rapid river to reach the finishing line on shore determined the order each animal would be placed.
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How did the Chinese Years Get Their Names?
The Rat (who couldn’t swim) hitched a lift on the back of the Ox during the race, and when they reached the shore, he jumped off the Ox’s back and ran to the finish line. Hence the Rat came in first, followed by the Ox (2nd). The Tiger (3rd) swam a good race and came in just after the Ox. The Rabbit (4th) was on a log which floated to shore with the assistance of the bellowing breath of the Dragon (5th); hence the Rabbit and Dragon have become good friends, and Dragons always prosper during the Year of the Rabbit. Then came the Horse who didn’t realized that a Snake was coiled around his foot, and as soon as they reached the shore, the Snake (6th) uncoiled itself and slither towards the finishing line, which frightened and stuttered the galloping Horse (7th).
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Next came the Goat, Monkey, and Chicken who were all sharing the same raft; when they got to shore, they ran towards the finishing line with the Goat (8th) finishing ahead of the Monkey (9th), and the Chicken (10th) . The Dog (11th) splashed around and played in the river before deciding to finish the race. The Pig (12th) ate some food, and dozed off during the race; hence finished last. The Cat asked his neighbour, the Rat to wake him up for the zodiac race but the Rat forgot to wake the Cat; so by the time the Cat woke up, the zodiac race was over. The Cat held a grudge since then, and the Rat have endured feline-inflicted terror for eons. The Elephant was on his way to the zodiac race too, but ran away because the Rat got into its trunk. Hence the Cat and Elephant are not featured in the zodiac.
Year of the Rabbit
People born in year of the Rabbit are believed to be ingenious, vigilant, witty, and quick-minded; Rabbits have decent, noble and elegant mannerisms, and are gentle and approachable. The Rabbit being the 4th animal in the Chinese zodiac, and is known to be the luckiest out of all the twelve animals. The 5 Elements in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) according to the Creation Cycle in order are Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal – each zodiac sign is associated with one Element, with the Water Rabbit coming once every 60 years.
The Chinese zodiac year (based on the lunar calendar) start from CNY, whose date ranges from late-January to mid-February in the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, if you were born in January or February, you might have been born in the zodiac of a previous animal. Years of the Rabbit include: 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, and 2023.
CNY is traditionally celebrated over first 15 days of the New Year (22nd January to 5th February 2023). The ‘Family Reunion Dinner’ is an entrenched cultural practice with the Chinese diaspora because generations of family travel from all over to reunite for this single meal, which is widely regarded as the most important meal of the year. Some Chinese Restaurants would offer a Banquet (usually 8-11 multi-dishes) during the first 15 days of CNY with dishes that you would not find during the rest of the year e.g. Prosperity Salad with Salmon Sashimi, Abalone-Shark Fin-and-Sea Cucumber Soup, Stir Fried Black Fungus with Snow Pea and Sliced Lotus, Rainbow Salmon Platter, Black Moss-Sea Cucumber-and-Chinese Mushroom, etc.
In Western Countries, you could join in the CNY celebrations by going to Chinatown and observe the rich and colourful celebrations of Lion Dance, Dragon Dance, music of the beating of drums, cymbals, and gongs, Temple Fairs, sound of firecrackers, and decorations which boost the festive atmosphere like banners, flags, flowerpots, orange trees, paper-cuts on windows, folk paintings on walls, hanging red lanterns, display couplets on doors, and so on.
Lion Dancers prepare for the Lunar New Year
While the Chinese in Guangdong (Canton) traditionally prepare seven-vegetable soup or rice congee, overseas Chinese communities in South-East Asia toss “Yee Sang” for continued wealth and prosperity; Yee Sang is Cantonese word for raw fish salad (Yu Sheng in Mandarin) which originated in Malaysia & Singapore and has now spread to the Chinese diaspora worldwide. It usually consists of strips of raw fish, mixed with shredded vegetables, and a variety of sauces and condiments, among other ingredients. It is often served as the appetizer of a multi-dish banquet dinner being the symbolism of “Good Luck” for the CNY. Diners proceed to toss the shredded ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying various “auspicious wishes” out loud, or simply “Lor Hay, Lor Hay” (“scoop it up, scoop it up” in Cantonese). It is believed that the height of the prosperity toss reflects the height of the diners’ growth in fortunes, thus diners are expected to toss enthusiastically. Yee Sang is considered a symbol of good fortune, abundance, prosperity, and vigour.
Prosperity Toss known as Yee Sang (in Cantonese) or Yu Sheng (in Mandarin) during Chinese New Year
The Year of the Rat (2020) was about survival in once-in-a-lifetime Pandemic. The Year of the Ox (2021) was about anchoring ourselves in a new World reality. The Year of the Tiger (2022) was about a year of making new changes towards the end of the Pandemic, a year of risk-taking and adventure, finding liveliness again for all of us, and with collective progress starting again. The Year of the Rabbit (2023) will be a peaceful year, a time to retreat to a quiet and peaceful place, to rest and heal our wounds, and wind down after all we had to endure in the previous few years. Things will finally start to fall into place after more than 2 years of struggle and hardship, and our lives will take a buoyant, optimistic and favourable turn. Pay attention to the Rabbit and understand its traits – alertness, prudent scrutiny of each situation, being able to mobilize quickly, and the need to get away quickly from dangerous situations – similar to when a rabbit is able to sneak out of danger or bad weather. Overall, all of us will benefit this year from the Rabbit’s governing influence of being mindful enough to avoid being reckless, not being impulsive, and to think before acting.
How to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit globally
Philatelists would be interested to know that some countries like USA, Canada, and Australia have been ushering in the Lunar Year every year by issuing Chinese New Year stamps and First Day Covers. To greet someone Happy Chinese New Year, you would say “Kung Hey Futt Choy” (in Cantonese) or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (in Mandarin). Wishing you luck, abundant fortune, love, health, peace, and prosperity this Chinese New Year of the Wabbit!