Lunar New Year, also commonly known as Chinese New Year, begins on January 22, 2023, and ushers in the Year of the Rabbit. The holiday is one of the biggest celebrations across Asia and the Asian diaspora, and represents new beginnings and the renewal of good health, happiness, and fortune.
Each new year in the lunar calendar, which the holiday is based on, is represented by one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, or pig. “There are many different theories and stories explaining the origin of China's zodiac animals 生肖 (shēngxiào),” Dottie Li, cultural expert and the voice of Rosetta Stone Mandarin, says. The most popular and widely known version centers around the legendary Jade Emperor, who is considered the Ruler of Heaven.
“On his birthday, he called together all the animals of the land to a race. Twelve (although some say 13) showed up,” Lauren Nechamkin, Director of Education at the Museum of Chinese in America and Nora Chen, Education Manager at the Museum of Chinese in America, explain. “Their order in finishing the race would help determine the passage of time.” The rabbit finished fourth, and is therefore the fourth animal sign in the Chinese zodiac.
Each animal is attributed with traits and symbols that hold meaning for what’s to come in the new year. As we look toward ringing in the Lunar New Year, here is everything you need to know about the meaning behind the Year of the Rabbit.
The Year of the Rabbit occurs every 12 years — that means that the most recent Years of the Rabbit are 1999 and 2011. “The Year of the Rabbit 兔年 symbolizes longevity, positivity, auspiciousness, wittiness, cautiousness, cleverness, deftness and self-protection,” Li explains.
The new year brings new fortunes, and in 2023, people can expect prosperity, hope, and calm, Li says. “Because of the rabbit’s characteristics, we can expect relaxation, fluidity, quietness and contemplation,” she adds.
However, if you were born in a Year of the Rabbit (2011, 1999, 1987, and so on), some feel that 2023 could bring you misfortune. “Many believe you face great challenges in your zodiac year and advise avoiding making life-altering decisions. Of course, you have the potential to turn these challenges into opportunities,” Nechamkin and Chen explain. “According to popular folklore, some ways to minimize your bad luck are to wear lucky red clothes (ideally those gifted to you by others), including red underwear and socks, and carrying lucky talismans.”
Not only does the zodiac animal reveal particular characteristics of the coming year,
it’s also believed to represent certain personality traits for those born in that year. “According to the Chinese Zodiac, people born in the Year of the Rabbit are gentle in spirit, approachable, good-humored, and expressive, including when it comes to their personal style,” Nechamkin and Chen explain. Their strengths also include “their elegance, artistic eye for design, and attention to detail,” they add.
But there are some weaknesses to those born in the Year of the Rabbit, too. “Some consider those born in the Year of the Rabbit to be overly sensitive, insecure, and cautious in their decision making — to a fault — in hopes of avoiding conflict,” Nechamkin and Chen say.
The rabbit was the fourth animal to finish in the Jade Emperor’s race. “In order to win, the animals had to cross a river with rapid currents and reach the finish line on the shore,” Li says.
To reach the end, the rabbit hopped along the river bank, Nechamkin and Chen explain. “To cross the river, it hopped from stone to stone, but slipped along the way. It clutched onto a nearby floating log and was able to float its way to the finish line and into fourth place,” they describe. “Some say that the Dragon saw the rabbit in need, floating on the log, and let out a giant breath of air to help it reach the finish line safely.”
Each zodiac year is associated with one of the five elements — Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. In 2023, the Year of the Rabbit is attached to the element of Water.
“Water Rabbits are known to be soft, thoughtful, and friendly with a ‘go with the flow’ attitude. Water Rabbits are also quiet, but effective, workers with excellent memory,” Nechamkin and Chen say. “However, they are not the quickest decision makers or biggest risk takers.”
During the Lunar New Year, it’s tradition to gift red envelopes of money, which are meant to bring good luck. Tea, fruits, sweets, and new clothes and home supplies are custom as well. In the Year of the Rabbit, any item with a rabbit motif would be a great gift, “especially the jade rabbit,” Li says.
“Gifting rabbit-shaped jade jewelry is very popular this year,” Nechamkin and Chen add. “In Chinese mythology, the jade rabbit is the only zodiac animal to have lived with the Moon Goddess Chang’E, and thus, is a beloved animal.”
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