In Chinese astrology, each year is named after an animal, and if you are born in that year, you take some of that animal's characteristics. This is the story of how each year took its name, and it also explains why there is no year of the cat, and why cats hate rats so much.
We thought you might like to look up your own year and find out who you really are! So we've included a chart in the text.
Read by Natasha.
Adapted by Bertie
Illustrations for Storynory by Chiara Civati
One day, the Lord Buddha called all the animals to a meeting. He told them that he had decided to pick the 13 most faithful animals and reward each of them with their own year.
As soon as the animals heard this, they began to quarrel among themselves about who should have the honour of the first year, the second, the third, and so on.
The Buddha decided to settle this squabble with a contest. He gathered the 13 animals on the bank of a gushing river, and told them that they must swim across to the other side. The first to arrive would have the honour of the first year, and the second to arrive would have the second, and in this way, the order of all the years would be decided.
The night before the contest, the rat went to see his best friend the cat to discuss the race. They both agreed that the contest was unfair to them, as both of them hated water, and neither were strong swimmers.
So the pair went to see the Ox who was very large and a strong swimmer. He was also extremely good-natured, and he agreed to carry the rat and the cat on his back.
The next morning, most of the animals were up early in time to see the dawn spread her rosy fingers across the river. They limbered up for the race, and very noisy about it they were too! The Ox looked around for his friends, but he could not catch sight of the cat or the rat. So he stood by the bank of the river and was about to jump in with a great splash when the pair sprang out of the reeds and landed on his back. In this way, they set off into the deep, swirling waters of the river.
Fortunately, the Ox was powerful enough to swim across the current without any trouble, and soon the far bank was in sight. The cat crouched on the Ox’s head and swished his tail. The rat could see that his friend was getting ready to leap onto the bank ahead of them and take the first prize. He became so cross about this, that he pushed the cat into the water. Then he himself jumped onto the bank and won the honour of the first year for himself.
The Ox lumbered on, reached the bank just after the rat, and the second year was named after him.
The Tiger was like a big cat, and hated water, but he had powerful muscles and managed to come in third. He was followed by the rabbit - who although he hated getting his ears wet - was very determined, and was helped by the dragon. The dragon was very concerned about the water getting into his nose and putting out his fire, but he managed to keep his head about water and took the fifth year.
The horse was about to come in sixth, but he reared back to avoid stepping on the snake who slithered in just ahead of him. So the snake was sixth and the horse was seventh.
Next came a raft with the sheep, monkey, and the rooster who took the eighth, ninth, and tenth places.
Quite a while later, the dog paddled ashore and shook himself so that he sprayed all the others who had just managed to get dry. The dog took the eleventh year.
Finally, after a long, long time, the pig made it to the bank. He had slept in late, and only just made it to become the 12th animal of the Chinese Zodiac.
And what became of the cat? He was swept downstream by the strong current of the river, and he very nearly drowned. Eventually, he was washed up onto the bank where they had all started, and he shivered and shook with cold and rage. And so there are 12, not 13 years in the Chinese calendar, and there is no year named after the cat. And if you’ve ever wondered why cats hate rats so much - now you know!
And that’s the story of how the Chinese years and signs of the Zodiac came to be named after 12 animals. What year were you born in? If you would like to see, drop by at Storynory.com where Bertie has written out a list of all the recent years and their characteristics in the text for this story.
For now, from me, Natasha
1996, 2008, 2020 - Year of the Rat
Rats are ambitious and very focused on their goals, but they are also fun and love gossip.
1985, 1997, 2009 - Year of the Ox
Oxen are loyal, dependable, determined, and perhaps a bit stubborn.
1986, 1998, 2010- Year of the Tiger
Tigers fight tooth and claw for what they want- but they also have a sensitive side.
1987, 1999, 2011 - Year of the Rabbit
Rabbits are diplomatic, honest, kind, and stick to agreements.
1988, 2000, 2012 - Year of the Dragon
Dragons bring good luck - so it's great to have one as your friend.
1989, 2001, 2013 - Year of the Snake
Snakes are lovely, charming and perceptive.
1990, 2002, 2014 - Year of the Horse
Horses are bursting with energy and fun.
1991, 2003, 2015 - Year of the Sheep (Goat)
Sheep love a quiet life, and are peaceful easy-going souls.
1992, 2004, 2016 - Year of the Monkey
Monkeys are lively, clever and full of pranks.
1993, 2005, 2017 - Year of the Rooster
Roosters are extrovert and love to strut their stuff.
1994, 2006, 2018 - Year of the Dog
Dogs are kind, loyal, loving, and good listeners.
1995, 2007, 2019 - Year of the Pig
Pigs are great fun, really enjoy life, and love their friends and family.