In our Lunar New Year greeting, VTP directed readers to one possible explanation of why other cultures celebrate the Year of the Rabbit, while Vietnam celebrates the Year of the Cat. Not satisfied with this explanation alone, Lana decided to fill readers in on the rest of the narrative.
Happy Year of the Cat! No, sorry, I meant rabbit. Just kidding, cat it was. Meow.
Have you ever wondered what was behind this little discrepancy of cat and rabbit on the lunar calendar? Curious or not, I’m going to tell you about it, because I think it’s an intriguing tale of betrayal and friendship. A story of misguided trust and missed chances. It’s a story of animals racing to get to a meeting, which I find to be extremely cute. And whether intentional or not, I find these stories to be charmingly humorous. There are many versions out there, but I’m sure you can understand what happened to the cat from these few.
Let me set you up with a base for the variations of this story. A long, long time ago, the Jade Emperor decided to assign animals to each of the years so that people could easily remember the Zodiac cycle. In order to decide which twelve would be given the honor, he called a meeting with all the animals. At this time, the cat and the rat were great friends and the cat was dealing with a bad sleeping problem–he liked to sleep, a lot.
Story one, in which the cat fails to make it on the Chinese calendar:
The night before the meeting, the cat and the rat decided that they would show up early. Knowing that being awake was one of his weaknesses, the cat asked the rat to wake him up the next day. Morning came around, but that sneaky rat left without waking his best friend! When the cat woke up, the meeting was over and the rabbit had already been chosen in the cat’s place. It was from that moment on that the cat vowed to make the rat his enemy (…)
Story two, in which outcomes vary between cultures:
To get to the meeting, the animals had to cross a river. The cat and rat wisely decided to catch a ride on the back of the ox, who generously let them board. As they were making their way across, the rat reached over and pushed his friend into the river! (…)
And here’s the “choose your ending” part of the story.
(…) The cat could not swim! As he struggled, the ox reached the other side and the rat jumped off and got to the meeting first. After the ox and tiger made their way in, the rabbit made his entrance, having crossed the river by hopping on stones. As the other animals came filing in, the cat emerged out of the water just in time to be 13th, leaving him out of the Zodiac cycle. Talk about bad luck.
(…) The cat knew how to swim and got to the meeting after the rat, ox, and tiger. Simple as that.
I couldn’t find out what happened to the rabbit in the Vietnamese version, or if he ever even existed in the story. Who knows? Maybe the cat pushed him in the river…or the rat came back for a second dunking.
I’ll admit, there are many other factors that may explain the difference, like the Chinese word for rabbit being “mao” which sounds like “meo”. But, if justification is needed, I’ll stick to these stories. And, as a person born in the year of the cat, let me just finish by saying: Darn you, rat. *fist/paw shake*
Photo courtesy of play4smee