You may have heard that February 8 marked the beginning of the Year of the Monkey, according to the Chinese calendar. But other than enjoying the colorful sight of Chinese New Year celebrations, you’d be forgiven from not knowing your monkeys from your oxen — and what it all means.
Monkeys and Roosters and Pigs, Oh My!
The current Year of the Monkey runs until January 27, 2017. There are twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac, each representing roughly one of our Gregorian calendar years. The monkey symbolizes the ninth year in the twelve-year cycle.
In order, the animals in the 12-year cycle are: Rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
Think that’s all there is to it? Not so fast! Along with the animal symbol, you’ll need to remember that there is a second component to every zodiac year.
Because the Chinese calendar is actually a lunisolar (moon and sun) calendar, the complexity of the system is difficult for Westerners to grasp. The twelve-year “animal” cycles rotate within larger 60-year phases, with different elements associated with certain phases of the 60-year phase.
According to this Chinese system, the element associated with 2016 is fire, or red. Therefore, 2016 is the Year of the Fire Monkey, sometimes referred to as the Year of the Red Fire Monkey. (The last monkey year, 2004, was the Year of the Wood Monkey, while the next, 2028, will be the Year of the Earth Monkey.)
According to Chinese tradition, you not only possess the general personality traits of your birth year animal, but also the distinct traits specific to the element representing where your birth year falls within 60-year phase.
As you might imagine, those born in any of the monkey years are purported to be curious, playful and intelligent, just like their animal symbol. But — again, much like actual monkeys — people sharing this zodiac symbol also supposedly possess the negative aspects of being somewhat selfish and scatterbrained.
People born in Fire Monkey years, specifically, are said to be daring, but somewhat on the grumpy side. (You can test this theory on anyone you know who happens to have been born in 1956, the last Year of the Fire Monkey.)
Annual Chinese New Year festivities, which technically can last around 15 days, have some common elements, no matter what animal and element are associated with one’s particular birth year. The night before the official New Year, people clean their homes to symbolically sweep out the old, then gather for family dinners, similar to American Thanksgiving.
New Year’s decorations are predominantly red, including homemade cutouts hung in the windows, and red envelopes containing money are passed out to children. Festivals featuring fireworks, lanterns and dancing lions or dragons are also common.
Zodiac signs come into play with people wearing the colors associated with their annual year during New Year’s celebrations. For anyone born in monkey years, that means blue, gold and white. But it’s also auspicious when one’s birth year rolls around to wear the color of red close to your body.