By Indunil Usgoda Arachchi
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The Lunar New Year kickoff celebrations were spectacular everywhere this year. But curiously, the animal of 2023 is not the same for every celebration.
While 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit for the Chinese and some others who celebrate the Lunar New Year, it is the Year of the Cat for the Vietnamese and some others.
“This is the Year of the Cat for Vietnamese,” said Angela Trương, the executive director for the Tết in Seattle. “Therefore, we have used the sign of the cat for the Tet Festival this time.”
The Tết in Seattle annually organizes the Tết festival for celebrating the Vietnamese Lunar New Year and the cultural roots of Vietnamese Americans. It was held on Jan. 14 and 15 at the Seattle Center by presenting, promoting, and providing hands-on experience in the arts, music, performances, and foods that are unique to Vietnam.
The cat had become a major theme among all. Kids were painting the cats and youth were taking pictures with the cat’s background at the Cultural village at the Tết festival. Also, toy cats were given as gifts for games at the festival.
“The Vietnamese zodiac calendar and the Chinese zodiac calendar are very similar to each other,” Trương added. “Last year was the Year of the Tiger for both zodiacs and 2024 is the Year of the Dragon, but the fourth animal in the zodiac is very different from ours.”
Both zodiac calendars follow a 12-year cycle and each year is represented by one of the 12 animals on their zodiacs. In the Chinese calendar, they are the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.
These differences and the confusion have not occurred for the first time this year as 12 animals follow the 12-year cycles. Previously, 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939, 1927, and 1915 were also years of the Cat.
“There are many legends behind this difference in the animal signs,” said Annie Nguyen, the education director for the Tết in Seattle.
“Those are interesting, but the real reason behind those differences is unverifiable.”
Nguyen recalled the popular folk tale of the absence of the cat in the Chinese zodiac, known as ‘The Great Race.’ According to that story, the rat tricked the cat and the cat could not make it to the finish line while all the animals in the zodiac were headed to the Jade.
“There is another explanation about an old Chinese word for rabbit and cat that were similar in sound, leading to a mistake for the Vietnamese zodiac,” she said. “All these seem to be legends and all lead to arguments.”
The usefulness of the cat for the farmers in Vietnam rather than the rabbit is another legend. “The cat is very friendly and very helpful compared to the rabbit,” she added.
Although there seem to be many legends about this, none seem to be certain. And although these symbols are basically believed to have originated in China and then spread to other countries, various researchers are currently questioning those views as well.
According to the National Museum of Asian Art, not only in the Vietnamese but in the Gurung (Central Nepal) zodiac, the cat replaces the rabbit. In the Malay zodiac, the mousedeer replaces the rabbit.
However, it seems that there are more differences when considering a few other zodiacs, too. In the Thai zodiac, the Dragon becomes the Naga. In the Japanese zodiac, the Pig becomes the Boar.
Meanwhile, some branded companies have introduced new products to customers for the Lunar New Year with designs of both cats and rabbits.
While the diversity of communities brings color to society, the diversity of the celebrations adds more vividness.
Indunil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.