This ‘Animals of the Chinese Zodiac’ theme showcases an aspect of Chinese culture that’s both ancient and still very visible in modern China.
Did you know? The story behind the order of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac calendar is based on an ancient Chinese fable. Like most ancient stories, there are many variations. Here’s one of them:
The story goes that a race was organised by the Jade Emperor – one of the most important gods in traditional Chinese religion – who invited all the animals in the world to take part.
Twelve species turned up at the start line: a pig, dog, rooster, monkey, sheep, horse, snake, dragon, rabbit, tiger, ox and rat.
As a reward for turning up, the Emperor named a year in the zodiac after each one, while the race would determine the order each animal would be placed.
The course included a huge river which every creature, large or small, had to cross. The exhausted rat used its cunning to navigate the water by persuading the kindly ox to let it sit on its head as it crossed. Rather than say thank you on the other side, the rat made a dash for the finish with the ox not far behind. That’s why the rat is first creature in the cycle, followed by the ox.
Not surprisingly, the tiger ran a good race but the current in the river sent it a little off-course. It recovered enough to cross the line behind the ox and so comes in at number three in the Chinese zodiac.
Next up was the rabbit. Also tired by the race, it almost came a cropper in the river but saved itself on a floating log and got to shore to finish fourth.
In fifth place is the only mythical creature on the calendar, the dragon. A kinder creature than legend suggests, it didn’t hesitate to divert from the race to extinguish a fire which was endangering the lives of some nearby villagers. Once it got back on course, it saw the rabbit struggling and used its breath to blow it safely to shore.
The rabbit never learned who came to its aid while the dragon was content to finish behind it.
The horse wasn’t far behind the dragon and thought sixth place was in the bag. However, it hadn’t noticed that the snake was saving energy by wrapping itself around the horse’s leg to hitch a ride. With the finish line in sight, the snake uncoiled itself and frightened the horse enough to slither into sixth, leaving its carrier, the horse, to take seventh place.
Next up were the sheep, monkey and rooster and this is a perfect example of teamwork. The three piloted a small raft which would see them across the river safely. Once on the other side it was a dash for the finish. The sheep was first, followed by the monkey and then the rooster (in some parts of the world, the sheep is known as a goat), so they took slots eight, nine and ten respectively.
Now we’re just left with the dog and the pig. Dog owners won’t be surprised that the playful hound was more interested in splashing about in the river rather than crossing it. This enabled the first 10 creatures to overtake it. It eventually ran over the line in 11th place. Which leaves the pig. The pig got peckish during the race. After stopping for food, it became sleepy and dozed off. It did wake up after a while and managed to make it over the line in last place. The Emperor had almost given up on it but was happy to assign it the final space in the zodiac.
(Taken from BBC Bitesize)
The 12 animals in order and their characteristics are:
- Rat: Clever, persuasive
- Ox: Reliable, stubborn
- Tiger: Emotional, courageous
- Rabbit: Sincere, popular
- Dragon: Kind, fearless
- Snake: Generous, smart
- Horse: Independent, impatient
- Goat: Shy, peace-loving
- Monkey: Fun, active
- Chicken: Practical, observant
- Dog: Loyal, diligent
- Pig: Loving, honest
Zodiac Animals Hanging Decorations
Your box features a set of 12 hanging, embroidered decorations – one for each of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac.
These 12 animals each feature their name in Chinese Chinese character, e.g. horse has the character 马.
These decorations come with a long hanging cord, which makes them more versatile in that you can hang them from rear-view mirrors, etc.
However, one of our Homeland Ties families shared the top tip of cutting and shortening the hanging cord and using these as Christmas tree ornaments.
If you plan to only add these in the correct years, then:
Christmas 2021 is the year of the Ox
Christmas 2022 is the year of the Tiger
Christmas 2023 is the year of the Rabbit
Christmas 2024 is the year of the Dragon
Christmas 2025 is the year of the Snake
Christmas 2026 is the year of the Horse
Christmas 2027 is the year of the Goat
Christmas 2028 is the year of the Monkey
Christmas 2029 is the year of the Chicken
Christmas 2030 is the year of the Dog
Christmas 2031 is the year of the Pig
Christmas 2032 is the year of the Rat
Interactive poster with the 12 animals.
We love how useable this learning resource is – you can switch between Chinese and English, it features a picture of each of the animals in the order they supposedly finished the race in, the Chinese character, it’s name in English and pinyin [the phonetic version of the character].
Most helpfully, you can hear the correct pronunciation and learn how to say the animal with the right tone.
Finally, it includes the years of birth for each animal.
Animals of the Chinese Zodiac by Eric Carle
This very simple book by the famous children’s author – best known for The Very Hungry Caterpillar – teaches children about the different traits associated with each of the animals.
The illustrations are bright and in the style Carle is famous for. The end result is that an ancient Chinese tradition made accessible for young children and western cultures.
Felt animals in traditional paper cutting style
If the embroidered animal decorations make good tree ornaments, then these felt zodiac animals make perfect Lunar New Year decorations.
These work beautifully on doors and windows!
DIY Tiger Charm Craft Kit
The year of the Tiger begins on February 1st 2022 so we’ve added a craft activity that will allow you child[ren] to wear this cute tiger emblem.
Your box contains 2 tiger charms, simple links to connect the charms to your choice of accessory, 2 key-rings, yellow cord for braiding a necklace or bracelet and a black necklace.
We hope your family loves learning all about the Animals of the Chinese Zodiac together!