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Welcome to the Year of the Rat

By Yvonne Choi + Illustration by Tanny Nguyen - January 25, 2020 under MT+Co.

Happy Lunar New Year!

As a curious child who asked endless questions about how things came to be, I was always intrigued by the Chinese zodiac animals. My dad, who is born in the year of the rat, recounted the story about the big race which was told to him by his parents. Without bringing shame to the family name (I hope), I’m retelling the story to the best of my ability.

The Big Race

A long, long time ago, Buddha decided to host a race, and he invited all the animals in the kingdom.

To his surprise, on the day of the event, only twelve animals showed up! Buddha expressed his gratefulness towards the twelve animals by giving them the reward of having the Chinese zodiac calendar named after them. The calendar was arranged according to the order in which they finished the race.

So off to the race they go! As each animal completed the race, we will forever know the Chinese zodiac animals as: Rat; Ox; Tiger; Rabbit; Dragon; Snake; Horse; Ram; Monkey; Rooster; Dog; and Pig.

Wait – Where Is the Cat?

When Buddha announced his invitation to the big race, the Cat asked his best friend the Rat to go with him. They agreed to go together.

The Cat was well-aware of his habits of taking naps and waking up late. Worried he might miss the big race, he asked the Rat to wake him up the next morning. The Rat promised he would not leave without the Cat.

Overnight, the Rat did not sleep and was deep in thought. The more he thought about the race, the more he really wanted to win the whole thing. When morning came, the Cat was still fast asleep; the Rat left without his best friend.

When the Cat finally woke up, it was too late to make it to the race on time. The Cat never had a chance to make it in the Chinese zodiac, and since that day of betrayal, the Cat will always hunt the Rat.