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The myth behind the Chinese zodiac - Megan Campisi and Pen-Pen Chen


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What’s your sign? In Western astrology, it’s a constellation determined by when your birthday falls in the calendar. But according to the Chinese zodiac (生肖), it’s your shuxiang, meaning the animal assigned to your birth year. And of the many myths explaining these animal signs and their arrangement, the most enduring one is that of The Great Race. Megan Campisi and Pen-Pen Chen recount this classic myth.

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The Lunar New Year on which the Chinese zodiac is based is one of the most important celebrations of the year in Chinese culture. Called the Spring Festival 春节 (Chun Jie) as it marks the first day of spring on the lunar calendar, the holiday is typically a time to spend with family and feast on celebratory foods. Children will often receive lucky money in red envelopes “红包” (hong bao) from their parents, grandparents, and other adult relatives.

While China adopted the Western calendar that marks the New Year on January 1 in 1912, the Spring Festival is still celebrated according to the traditional lunar calendar, which is thought to have been used from at least the 14th century B.C.E. This website explains a little more.

The Spring Festival lasts fifteen days and is filled with different activities. One activity is hanging red banners, using noisemakers and setting off fireworks. These traditions originate from a legend about a terrible monster called the Nian (年) who would raid towns and villages on the first day of the new year. To scare off the monster, people used the color red (a color the monster hated), loud noises and bright lights like fireworks and lanterns.

The final day of the new year celebrations is the Lantern Festival or 元宵节 (Yuan Xiao Jie). Carrying colorful lanterns with riddles written on them, people gather to solve the riddles and enjoy the bright lights. People also eat round rice dumplings that symbolize the roundness of the moon and the togetherness or unity of family.

To learn more about Chinese New Year and its traditions, click here. In Chinese culture, traditional holidays occur on the Lunar Calendar. Interested? Watch Bet You Didn't Know: Chinese New Year! This travel site highlights many of the Chinese New Year traditions too. Here are two more resources for students and educators alike who want to explore more about Chinese holidays: The Lunar New Year: Rituals and Legends and Traditional Chinese Festivals,

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Megan Campisi, Pen-Pen Chen
  • Director Marta Prokopová
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Animator Marta Prokopová
  • Art Director Marta Prokopová
  • Storyboard Artist Marta Prokopová
  • Illustrator Marta Prokopová
  • Character Designer Marta Prokopová
  • Composer Cem Misirlioglu
  • Associate Producer Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Pen-Pen Chen

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