Animals are a significant and symbolic part of the Chinese New Year because of the Chinese Zodiac, which is a 12-year cycle where each year is associated with a specific animal sign. This tradition has deep cultural and historical roots in Chinese astrology and mythology.
The Chinese Zodiac, or Shengxiao (生肖), is based on a legend that involves a race between animals to determine their order in the zodiac cycle. According to the legend, the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven, invited all the animals to participate in a race to determine their position in the zodiac. The order in which the animals finished the race determined the order of the zodiac signs. The 12 animals that completed the race are, in order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat (or Sheep), Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.
Each animal sign is believed to have specific personality traits, characteristics, and associated symbolism. People born in a particular year are said to inherit the traits of the animal associated with that year. For example, those born in the Year of the Rat are believed to be clever, resourceful, and adaptable, while those born in the Year of the Ox are considered hardworking, reliable, and steadfast.
During Chinese New Year celebrations, there are various customs and traditions associated with each animal year. People often wear clothing and decorations featuring the animal sign of the year to bring good luck and ward off bad fortune. Parades, dances, and performances featuring these animal symbols are also common during the festivities.
In addition to the animal signs, Chinese astrology also considers the five elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water) and their interactions with the animal signs, creating a 60-year cycle (12 animals x 5 elements). This adds another layer of complexity to Chinese astrology and further refines the personality traits and characteristics associated with each individual's birth year.
Overall, animals play a central role in the Chinese New Year celebrations due to their connection to the Chinese Zodiac, which has been an integral part of Chinese culture and astrology for centuries. It is a way for people to connect with their heritage, understand their own characteristics, and celebrate the passage of time and the cyclical nature of life.