Versions of the Chinese calendar have been used for thousands of years. Today the Chinese calendar is still used to mark traditional Chinese holidays, but the common Gregorian calendar (the one used by most of the rest of the world) is used for daily business in China.
The Chinese calendar was developed by many of the Chinese dynasties of Ancient China. However, it was in 104 BC during the rule of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty that the current calendar was defined. This calendar was called the Taichu calendar. It is the same Chinese calendar that is used today.
Each year in the Chinese calendar is named after an animal. For example, 2012 was the "year of the dragon". There are 12 animals that the years cycle through. Every 12 years the cycle repeats itself. The Chinese believed that, depending on which year a person was born, their personality would take on the aspects of that animal.
Here are the animals and what they mean:
Years: 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008
Personality: charming, cunning, funny, and loyal
Get along with: dragons and monkeys, not with horses
Years: 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009
Personality: hard working, serious, patient, and trustworthy
Get along with: snakes and roosters, not with sheep
Years: 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010
Personality: aggressive, brave, ambitious, and intense
Get along with: dogs and horses, not with monkeys
Years: 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011
Personality: popular, lucky, kind, and sensitive
Get along with: sheep and pigs, not with roosters
Years: 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012
Personality: wise, powerful, energetic, and charismatic
Get along with: monkeys and rats, not with dogs
Years: 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013
Personality: smart, jealous, analytical, and generous
Get along with: roosters and oxen, not with pigs
Years: 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002
Personality: like to travel, attractive, impatient, and popular
Get along with: tigers and dogs, not with rats
Years: 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003
Personality: creative, shy, sympathetic, and insecure
Get along with: rabbits and pigs, not with oxen
Years: 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004
Personality: inventive, energetic, successful, and deceitful
Get along with: dragons and rats, not with tigers
Years: 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005
Personality: honest, neat, practical, and proud
Get along with: snakes and oxen, not with rabbits
Years: 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006
Personality: loyal, honest, sensitive, and moody
Get along with: tigers and horses, not with dragons
Years: 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007
Personality: intelligent, sincere, perfectionist, and noble
Get along with: rabbits and sheep, not with pigs
Legend of the Chinese Years
According to ancient Chinese legend, the order of the animals in the calendar was determined by a race. The animals raced across a river and their position in the cycle was determined by how they finished in the race. The rat won because it rode on the back of the oxen and jumped off its back at the last minute to win the race.
The Five Elements
There is a also an element for each year. There are five elements that cycle through each year. They are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.
Major Chinese holidays still use the Chinese calendar to determine when they are celebrated. These holidays include the Chinese New Year, Lantern Festival, Boat Dragon Festival, Night of Sevens, Ghost Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, and the Winter Solstice Festival.
Interesting Facts about the Chinese Calendar
The cat was the thirteenth animal in the race for the Chinese calendar. The cat tried to ride on the back of the ox like the rat, but the rat pushed the cat off into the water and it did not get a place on the calendar.
The start of the Chinese New Year falls between January 21 and February 21 each year. It is determined by the lunar-solar cycle.
The calendar has 12 months which are lunar months meaning that that each month begins at midnight on the day of a dark moon.
When the 12 animals and 5 elements are combined, the calendar runs on a 60 year cycle.
Each month is 29 or 30 days long. An extra month is added into the year every so often to adjust the length of the calendar to the solar year.