The Chinese lunar calendar differs from the Gregorian one in that it is based on moon cycles. It has something to do with harvests as far as I know. Due to this difference the New Year in China is around mid-February (the date is not fixed) instead of on January 1.

Chinese New Year is marked by several events, such as the ubiquitous Dragon Dance, firecrackers (they are very fun), special banquets, and of course, lai see. In English, basically, parents give lots of money to all us young 'uns. Excellent.

The Chinese calendar also has a lunar cycle, repeating itself over every 12 years. Each year has an animal to represent it. I think 2000 is the Year of the Dragon. Anyways, here are the 12 animals, listed in order.

BTW, we also celebrate the Gregorian New Year. Extra holidays are too good to pass by.

Not really used in China anymore, but to keep the party going - ie. being able to celebrate New Year's Eve twice a year, the calendar is still present around the world.

Like in the Hebrew Calendar:

  • An ordinary year has 12 months, a leap year has 13 months.
  • An ordinary year has 353, 354, or 355 days, a leap year has 383, 384, or 385 days.

Numbering years are done numbering 60 year cycles. The cycles come from counting years in two cycles:

The 60 year cycles are counted, and currently it's running on its 78th cycle.

The Twelve Year Cycle


Rat         1900   '12   '24   '36   '48   '60   '72   '84   '96   2008

Ox*         1901   '13   '25   '37   '49   '61   '73   '85   '97   2009

Tiger          '02   '14   '26   '38   '50   '62   '74   '86   '98   2010

Rabbit*      '03   '15   '27   '39   '51   '63   '75   '87   '99   2011

Dragon      '04   '16   '28   '40   '52   '64   '76   '88   2000   2012

Snake        '05   '17   '29   '41   '53   '65   '77   '89   2001

Horse         '06   '18   '30   '42   '54   '66   '78   '90   2002

Ram*          '07   '19   '31   '43   '55   '67   '79   '91   2003

Monkey*    '08   '20   '32   '44   '56   '68   '80   '92   2004

Cock*         '09   '21   '33   '45   '57   '69   '81   '93   2005

Dog*           '10   '22   '34   '46   '58   '70   '82   '94   2006

Boar*          '11   '23   '35   '47   '59   '71   '83   '95   2007



Twelve Periods of the Twenty-four Hour Cycle


Rat            12 Midnight — 2 a.m. (or 11 p.m. — 1 a.m.)

Ox*              2 a.m. — 4 a.m. (or 1 a.m. — 3 a.m.)

Tiger          4 a.m. — 6 a.m. (or 3 a.m. — 5 a.m.)

Rabbit*       6 a.m. — 8 a.m. (or 5 a.m. — 7 a.m.)

Dragon      8 a.m. — 10 a.m. (or 7 a.m. — 9 a.m.)

Snake     10 a.m. — 12 Noon (or 9 a.m. — 11 a.m.)

Horse     12 Noon — 2 p.m. (or 11 a.m. — 1 p.m.)

Ram*         2 p.m. — 4 p.m. (1 p.m. — 3 p.m.)

Monkey*   4 p.m. — 6 p.m. (or 3 p.m. — 5 p.m.)

Cock*        6 p.m. — 8 p.m. (or 5 p.m. — 7 p.m.)

Dog*#          8 p.m. — 10 p.m. (or 7 p.m. — 9 p.m.)

Boar*#      10 p.m. — 12 Midnight (or 9 p.m. — 11 p.m.)

(note: different sources attribute different times to the zodiac, so whatever pleases you better. more to come as I compile more info.)

(*)alternately known as:

Ox = Cow
Rabbit = Hare
Ram = Sheep
Monkey = Ape
Cock = Fowl
Dog = Fox
Boar = Hog

(#)Hog and Fox are transposed according to another tradition.
The way the Chinese lunar calendar works is that it has 12 months of 30 days each, which leaves the year short by 5 days each year. To prevent the calendar from drifting in the same manner as the Islamic lunar calendar, every few years there is a year that has 13 months (the extra month is called an "intercalary month") instead of twelve, at which point the calendar will jump back a month. Hence, there is some variation of the Chinese New Year between late January and February.

When people set off firecrackers on Chinese New Year, it is significantly louder than Independance Day in the US. Also, the fireworks are set off not only on the New Year's day but also for a couple of weeks afterward. (although the New Year's day is when most of the firecrackers are lit.)

There is also a 60-year cycle of years which utilizes the so-called "heavenly stems and earthly branches". There are 10 heavenly stems and 12 earthly branches (each of which corresponds with an animal as well) which are paired, 1 heavenly stem and 1 earthly branch to form the counting system for years. (note that odd-numbered stems are only paired with odd-numbered branches, which is why the year cycle has only 60 years instead of 120)

Traditionally, year dates were given by first naming the dynasty, then the reign period (each emperor has his own reign period) and then the year in the year cycle;however, the year cycle is independent of the reign period, so in order to figure out the actual year AD you have to add: 1923 (which is a "zero year" in the year cycle) to the year in the year cycle and then count backwards in time in multiples of 60 years until you reach a year that is within the reign period that you are looking for. This process is not difficult, but it requires a bit of memorization.

A legend explains the 12 animals chosen:

Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. Only twelve came and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived.

Note that there is more than one way to translate each animal into English: pig is also boar, snake is also serpent, sheep is also ram, rabbit is also hare.

On which year was I born?

The following is a table of years from 1924 (assuming nobody here is older than that) to 2019 (if it is now past 2019, /msg me or my next of kin, and we'll update it):

  
Rat      1924  1936  1948  1960  1972  1984  1996  2008
Ox       1925  1937  1949  1961  1973  1985  1997  2009
Tiger    1926  1938  1950  1962  1974  1986  1998  2010
Rabbit   1927  1939  1951  1963  1975  1987  1999  2011
Dragon   1928  1940  1952  1964  1976  1988  2000  2012
Snake    1929  1941  1953  1965  1977  1989  2001  2013
Horse    1930  1942  1954  1966  1978  1990  2002  2014
Sheep    1931  1943  1955  1967  1979  1991  2003  2015
Monkey   1932  1944  1956  1968  1980  1992  2004  2016
Rooster  1933  1945  1957  1969  1981  1993  2005  2017
Dog      1934  1946  1958  1970  1982  1994  2006  2018
Boar     1935  1947  1959  1971  1983  1995  2007  2019
What does each animal mean?

Here is a short outline of the main characteristics of each animal:

After encountering several pub quiz questions on the subject, I devised a mnemonic for remembering the order of the animals in the Chinese lunar calendar:

"Sheila, my Chinese doctor, presents rare oranges to rabbis driving skinny horses."

Broken down:

Sheila   - Sheep (or Goat)
My       - Monkey
Chinese  - Chicken (or Rooster)
Doctor   - Dog
Presents - Pig
Rare     - Rat
Oranges  - Ox
To       - Tiger
Rabbis   - Rabbit
Driving  - Dragon
Skinny   - Snake
Horses   - Horse

Notice that several animals start with the same letter, but that there's enough matching letters in the mnemonic that it's not ambiguous - best to write the whole thing out though to make sure you have exactly one of each animal - this isn't Noah's Ark.

To relate it to an actual year, remember that 1919 was Sheep. (Since I made it up myself, I selfishly set it up so that Sheep is my birth year 1979, but 1919 works too and shouldn't be hard to remember). Don't forget, though, that the Chinese New Year is some time in late January or February - I was born on 17 January 1979 which was still the Chinese Year of the Horse, even though most of 1979 was the Year of the Sheep.

It's easier to remember if you can picture it - imagine Sheila, my Chinese doctor, in her white doctor's coat, kneeling in the road reverentially presenting the beautifully arranged plate of rare, delicious oranges to a bemused party of rabbis, who have long beards and serious expressions, at odds with their slightly ridiculous appearance, driving, as they are, emaciated skinny horses.

That's how I like to think of it, anyway.


Thanks to yclept for suggesting 'skinny horses' rather than 'shire horses' to avoid sheep-related confusion.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.