Chinese New Year takes place on 19 February this year – a loud, colourful, auspicious celebration steeped in culture, tradition and history.
Each year, based on a set cycle stemming from the Chinese Zodiac that features 12 animals, a year takes on the characteristics of a particular animal, from which various insights regarding that year can be drawn.
2015 brings with it some confusion, from a Western perspective at least, as goats and sheep are used interchangeably to represent this year. So the question is, is 2015 (or 4712 according to the Chinese calendar) the year of the goat or the year of the sheep?
A Little bit about Chinese Characters
The problem, and the solution, lies in the character that represents this year’s animal: 羊 (yáng).
Chinese characters seem confusing and hard to understand at first, but a (not so) secret is that many characters started out as pictographs, stylised pictures that capture the meaning or the likeness of what they represent.
Over the years many characters evolved from their original form for ease or simplicity as a written language, but good examples remain such as mountain (山), person (人), rain (雨) and fire (火), where only a little imagination is required to link them to what they represent.
The Year of the Horned Animal
With this additional bit of knowledge about Chinese characters, we can refocus on The Year of the Yang (羊).
Yáng, in Google Translate, is easily translated to sheep, but you have to dig a little deeper.
The root meaning of yáng is apparently “horned animal”. Have a closer look at the character 羊 can you see the horned animal?
So yes, yáng can be sheep, more accurately mián yáng (绵羊), which means cotton or soft horned animal. Or it can be goat shān yáng (山羊), meaning mountain horned animal. There are several more combinations of yáng that will leave you with a horned animal, but it seems to be a toss-up between goat and sheep.
The Year of The Goat
When deciphering why one would depict this year as either, the context also has to be considered.
For example, sheep are cute and cuddly, so perhaps from a marketing perspective, sheep bring a fun, feel-good factor to celebrations of The Year of the Sheep.
However, sheep are generally considered as not very clever, tending to be mindless followers as opposed to goats, which are seen as own-minded and strong-willed, like leaders. So from a Feng Shui perspective it is more desirable for it to be the Year of the Goat.
Happy Chinese New Year
All that said, sheep or goat in spite, yáng is a symbol of blessings and good fortune on this auspicious occasion, which heralds the coming of the new year, plenty of festivities, reunions with family and plenty of noisy fireworks – the louder the better, to drive away evil and bad luck in preparation of a brand new year.
Gong Xi Fatt Chai and a Happy Chinese New Year to you!