“It is a horrible match,” I said. “A snake and a horse. We will do nothing but fight.”
I have always loved the story of how the years got their animal names in the Chinese zodiac. There are many versions of this story, and several beautiful children’s books that tell the tale if you want to learn more.
Once upon a time, long ago…
the Jade Emperor decided to hold a race to decide how the years would be named. The twelve fastest animals would earn their places in the Chinese calendar by having years named after them.
After the announcement, the cat and rat huddled together. “We are not the fastest, so we will have to be the most clever,” the cat said, blinking his eyes at his friend the rat. “Wake me up early and we will be the first at the river. I am sure we can figure out a way to win first and second.”
The rat promised to wake the cat, but when morning came, he decided that one less competitor would better his chances of winning. He slunk away in the morning, causing the cat to miss the race.
But the rat still had to beat the larger and faster animals. he asked the ox to carry him through the race in exchange for a song.
The strong, hard-working ox agreed. The race began and the rat was thrilled to see the ox pull ahead of the other animals. The ox would arrive first and the rat would arrive second. “But why shouldn’t I be first,” thought the rat. I was clever enough to trick the cat and get a ride on the ox.” The rat decided to play one more trick. Just as the ox was ready to step across the finish line and claim the first year, the rat slipped down and scurried the last step just in front of the ox. The ox had to be content with second place.
The tiger arrived in third place. The rabbit, who had hopped across stones most of the way, had to use a log to get across the last bit of the river. But his quick feet landed him in fourth place.
The dragon arrived next. “I thought you would arrive first,” said the Jade Emperor, “since you are the only animal here who can fly.”
The dragon explained that he would have arrived first, but he stopped to help a few villagers and rabbit balancing precariously on a log who needed a breath of wind to keep him from falling in the water.
The horse galloped toward the finish line, but just as he was about to cross it, the snake snuck out from behind his hoof. The horse, startled, stumbled back. This allowed the snake to slither into seventh and left the horse in eighth place.
The goat, monkey and rooster arrive next. They had made a raft and worked together to cross the river. The Jade Emperor, impressed with their cooperation, awarded the goat eighth place, the monkey ninth place, and the rooster tenth place.
The dog arrived in eleventh place, pleased with his romp across the river. Eventually the pig arrive. He had eaten too much and fallen asleep, but he was lucky enough to arrive just in time to come in twelfth.