Once the Western New Year comes and goes, another holiday immediately enters the minds of many Asians: Lunar New Year.
Widely celebrated widely throughout Asia, the holiday is also known as Chinese New Year or the spring festival. There’s much symbolism attached to each new year on the lunar calendar, and many traditions are followed in hopes of an auspicious start.
Each year is represented by one of 12 zodiac animals that reflect traditional Chinese culture, including how people see themselves and their relationship with the world. Here’s what you should know about the upcoming new year:
According to the Chinese zodiac, Feb. 16 will mark the start of the year of dog. It’s still the year of the rooster before that date, something to keep in mind when figuring out the zodiac sign of babies born around the cutoff.
Using the lunar calendar, which originated around 3,500 years ago, the ancients developed the Chinese zodiac to track time. There are 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, and they appear in the following sequence: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.
There’s a 12-year cycle before an animal makes a repeat appearance on the calendar. Aside from 2018, prior dog years include 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006.
The dog became one of the zodiac animals because of its close relationship with people (link in Chinese). China is one of the earliest countries to have domesticated dogs from grey wolves. China’s Hemudu culture, which existed from 5500 to 3300 BC, was one of the first to domestic dogs, according to fossils unearthed by researchers.
In Chinese culture, people born during the year of dog are believed to inherit some of the animal’s characteristics, such as loyalty, patience, and reliability.
Zodiac theory also relates to Chinese elemental theory, which associates the 12 animals with one of five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. The five elements combined with the 12 zodiac signs produce a 60-year cycle.
Zodiac animals have both fixed and non-fixed elements attached to them. For example, the dog (as well as the dragon, ox, and goat) is always associated with the earth element. Since 2018 is considered an earth year according to the Chinese solar calendar, those born in the coming Lunar New Year will be considered earth dogs, which carry characteristics like being communicative and responsible at work.
However, the last dog year, in 2006, was considered a metal year. Though dogs are inherently associated with earth, those born during the metal dog year are believed to be conservative and cautious in nature.
In Chinese tradition, every zodiac is believed to get along well or poorly with certain signs. Some Chinese idioms reflect this love-hate relationship.
Dogs are thought to be most compatible (link in Chinese) with rabbits, followed by tigers and horses. But dogs don’t mesh well with roosters—a relationship that Chinese fortune tellers have a saying for: 雞犬不寧 (ji quan bu ning), which loosely translates to a rooster and a dog could not live in peace together.
No. It’s generally believed to be bad luck if the zodiac animal of the current year is the same as the year you were born in. So people born in the prior dog years should be especially careful (link in Chinese), warns Mak Ling-ling, a prominent Hong Kong feng shui master.
There is a long list of traditions associated with the Lunar New Year. To start, there’s intense cleaning leading up to the holiday as a way to bid farewell to the previous year—but there’s no cleaning allowed during the start of the year to avoid “sweeping” or “washing” away one’s luck. There’s also much symbolism in the gifts people buy, and of course, in the elaborate meals they prepare for their families.