Bye-bye 2020. Bye-bye Year of the Rat. 2021 is Year of the Ox.
Year of the Ox refers to year 4719 of the Chinese calendar; a solar/lunar system that repeats every 60 years instead of running off into infinity the way most Westerners do. Used mainly by Asian party planners and fortune-tellers to portend auspicious events, every year of the Chinese calendar is marked with one of 12 animals. The twelve animals are the Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Sheep, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog, and the Pig.
Why these animals and not the majestic Elephant or the courageous Lion? It’s hard to say. One myth surrounding the selection of the animals goes like this: the Jade Emperor (Taoist ruler of heaven) threw a party and invited all the animals of creation to come. Only 12 showed up. The ones who showed got to be in the calendar.
That’s the problem with myths: they leave a lot of unanswered questions. For example, when did the Jade Emperor send out his invitations? Did he use enough postage? Sometimes invitations take extra, especially if they’re irregularly sized. Exactly how many animals RSVP’d? If only a few, maybe some invitations got lost in the mail.
Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense. Why would you miss a Jade Emperor party? That’s like getting invited to the Vanity Fair Oscar Party and saying, “Gee, I don’t know. I kind of want to stay home and watch the new episode of SVU.”
It’s obvious the Jade Emperor was disappointed. That’s why he stuck it to all the animals that didn’t come by excluding them from his calendar. I mean, there he is, dressed in his finest silk party robe, expecting the cuddly Giant Panda, the elegant Giraffe, and the jet-setting Cheetah. And who walks through the door? The Rat, the Rooster and the Dog. I’ve had parties like that, and frankly, it makes you not want to have parties anymore.
I bet the Dragon only stayed five minutes once he saw the crowd. He probably called the Unicorn on his way home to find out what happened. It probably went something like this:
Dragon: “Where were you?”
Unicorn: “What do you mean?”
Dragon: “The Emperor’s party.”
Unicorn: “That was tonight? I thought it was next week. How was it?”
Dragon: “Lame. But at least I’m in the calendar.”
Unicorn: “Who else is in the calendar?”
Dragon: “The Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Snake, the Horse, the Sheep, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog, and The Pig.”
Unicorn: “Man, Dragon. You are desperate. I won’t even work with animals who can’t fly.”
I don’t celebrate the Chinese New Year, which begins February 12th this year, but I do celebrate the Gregorian one, which begins every year on January 1st.
One year I threw a New Year’s Eve party and invited everyone I knew, which was about 42 people. Out of the 36 people who RSVP’d, 28 said they were coming and only 10 showed up. I’m no Jade Emperor but I was plenty disappointed. I even considered sticking it to the people who didn’t show by making a calendar using only the people who did, but I would have been two months short. Instead I decided to stick it to everyone by not having any more parties.
The Year of the Ox isn’t a year for parties anyway. It’s a year for hard work, for plowing through, for wearing masks and keeping your distance. If you’re tired of that, get in line. At least, the rat is gone.