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Blog header: Chinese zodiac animals on the right, text reading "Learn Your Zodiac Animal" on the left

Learn Your Zodiac Animal

In the Chinese zodiac, each year is represented by a different animal, and a person born under that animal’s year will have certain characteristics. You can find out what your zodiac animal is by using a zodiac calendar (like the one below) and finding your birth year.

Every year on the Lunar New Year, a new zodiac animal becomes prominent. Lunar New Year falls in January or February each year. Traditionally, on the evening before Lunar New Year, families gather to have a celebratory dinner. Windows and doors are usually decorated with red paper cutouts and poetry so that the new year is blessed with good fortune. Other traditions include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red paper envelopes. Did you know that the color red symbolizes good luck in China?

Most people can figure out what their zodiac animal is by using the chart below and finding the year they were born. But if your birthday falls between January 21 and February 19, you’ll have to do some sleuthing and check the exact date of Lunar New Year around your birthday. For example, in 1980 the Lunar New Year began on February 16, so a person born on February 15, 1980, or before was actually born during the Year of the Sheep*, even though anyone with a later birthday in 1980 was born during the Year of the Monkey!

Zodiac Chart

Chart showing birth years and zodiac animals

Zodiac Animal Characteristics

Rat: Charming, imaginative
Ox: Dependable, confident
Tiger: Enthusiastic, ambitious, charismatic
Rabbit: Polite, affectionate
Dragon: Strong, positive
Snake: Wise, graceful
Horse: Independent, hard working
Sheep: Artistic, generous
Monkey: Inventive, clever
Rooster: Meticulous, talkative
Dog: Honest, faithful
Pig: Courageous, thoughtful

Why These Animals?

These twelve animals represent the zodiac in China because of an old story. The Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven, held a race and invited all the animals in the world. The twelve species in the zodiac answered his call to compete, so he gave each of them a year in the zodiac calendar.

Curious who won? It was the crafty rat, which got a ride over a large, fast-flowing river from the ox, then scampered ahead to victory. The ox finished second, and the tiger third. The order of the zodiac calendar was set by the order in which the animals finished, from rat to pig.

Together Time

You can stage your own reenactment of the zodiac race using our chart! First print out the chart, then cut out the animals. Tape or glue each animal to a piece of cardstock or construction paper folded in half to make a game piece. Then find something blue around the house like a ribbon or a piece of fabric to represent the river. Who will win your family’s version of the famous race?

*The Year of the Sheep is also known as the Year of the Goat or the Year of the Ram.