The other day my son said, "I really hate rats. It's because of a rat that we don't get to have 'Year of the Cat.'" This is a reference to the venerable story of how the Chinese Zodiac came to be, as well-known throughout Asia as Noah's Ark in the West. On the day of the New Year the Gods (or Buddha, depending on which version you read) declared a race among thirteen animals to come and offer New Year's Greetings. The Ox knew he was the slowest animal, so he started out before the others. The Rat noticed this and hopped on his back, jumping off at the last minute to claim first place. The Ox came in second, followed by the fleet Tiger. The Rabbit was next, with the kind-hearted Dragon behind, who was delayed helping the Rabbit across the river. The Horse ran along then, but the Snake slithered between his legs and startled him, beating him to the finish line. The Sheep, Monkey and Rooster were working as a team to get across the river, and arrived next. Then came the Dog, delayed because he stopped to take a bath along the way, with the Boar coming in last -- he'd gotten confused and climbed the wrong mountain, forcing him to backtrack. The thirteenth animal was the Cat, who had forgotten what day the race was held and asked his friend the cunning Rat, who told him the wrong date. This is why there's no Year of the Cat, and why cats hate mice today...and why my son hates rats.
2012 is the Year of the Dragon. No Year of the Cat for us.