To help prepare for this week’s release of Year of the Rat, the first stamp in the latest Lunar New Year series, here are five facts about the creatures and their role in the holiday.
1. The rat is the first of the 12 zodiac animal signs associated with the Chinese lunar calendar. Many ancient fables and legends explain the origin of the zodiac signs. The most common story tells of the animals racing across a river to determine their order in the cycle. The rat crossed by riding on the back of the ox, jumping ahead at the last minute to win the race. Next came the ox, followed by the tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and boar.
2. Personality traits are often associated with people born in the year of a particular animal. Those born during the Year of the Rat are said to be clever, self-aware and highly social. According to the calendar, blue, green and gold are lucky colors for people born during the Year of the Rat, while brown should be avoided.
3. In Chinese tradition, five elements — wood, fire, earth, metal and water — also cycle in accordance with the lunar calendar. These elements are associated with a year’s animal sign, too. In 2020, the Lunar New Year will mark the beginning of the Year of the Metal Rat.
4. The Year of the Rat stamp features a rat mask. The image calls to mind the elaborately decorated masks used in the dragon dance, a hallmark of Lunar New Year parades. Using blue as the predominant color, the rat mask features several patterns created with the style of Asian textiles in mind, and the circle in the center of the rat’s head represents the new moon on which the Lunar New Year begins.
5. There’s a World Rat Day, too. This annual commemoration, held April 4, is not associated with the Chinese lunar calendar. Instead, the day aims to celebrate rats and help people learn more about them, including the fact that they are great groomers and have excellent memories.