The Lunar New Year, often called Chinese New Year even though it’s celebrated in many Asian cultures, is Sunday. Or is it? While the lunar calendar synced with the Gregorian calendar begins on January 22 this year, some cultures in Mongolia and Tibet follow a different calendar, which puts the New Year on February 20th. If that’s not confusing enough, the zodiac animal associated with the year varies this year. The twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac are universal every year except when the fourth animal comes around. In China and most countries, this will be the year of the rabbit. But in Vietnam, Tết will usher in the year of the cat. Al Stewart would be proud.
The reason why the two zodiacs differ is not quite clear. One theory is that the zodiac term for the year in Chinese sounds like the Vietnamese word for cat. Another theory has to do with the differing stories of how all the animals raced across a river to decide who would be represented in the zodiac. You can read those stories and find out more about the Lunar New Year celebrations at the Conversation. Now if we could just figure out how the mousedeer came to represent this year in the Malay zodiac, we’d know a lot more.
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