The 12 Chinese New Year Animals: A Zodiac Story for Kids
Learn About the Chinese New Year Animals
The New Lunar Year or Chinese New Year marks the beginning of the Chinese calendar year, and each cycle is named after an animal. Do you know how this came about?
The Story of the Race
In any tale from folklore, legend, or mythology, there are many versions of the story. Likewise, there are also many versions of the Chinese zodiac story. The version that you are about to read is based on the great race. This story is probably the best version, and it makes a great children's bedtime story.
An Invitation to a Grand Race
A long, long time ago, before his departure from Earth, Buddha decided to have a grand race, and all the animals in the kingdom were invited.
Unfortunately, only twelve animals showed up at the event. Grateful for their efforts, Buddha rewarded them by naming each year of the Chinese zodiac calendar after these twelve animals. The calendar was arranged according to the order in which they finished the race.
The twelve animals that came for the grand race were:
- Goat (sometimes called Sheep or Ram)
These are what we now know as the Chinese zodiac animals.
Where Is the Cat?
Upon hearing of Buddha's invitation to the grand race, the Cat invited his best friend the Rat to join him, and they agreed to go together.
But the Cat had a habit of waking up late. So, fearing he might miss the grand race, he asked the Rat to wake him up the next morning.
The Rat, however, forgot his promise and left without his best friend.
Alas, when the Cat finally woke up, it was already too late, and he did not make it to the race on time. Hence, there was no year in the Chinese zodiac named after the Cat. This is why, until this day, the Cat will always hunt the Rat.
The Cunning Rat and the Kind Ox
The Rat was actually too excited about the race. That's why he forgot to wake up his friend, the Cat.
Along the way, the Rat saw that other animals were already in front of him, and they ran much faster than he did. Before the finishing line, there was also a river to cross, and it was not a small river!
The Rat was already feeling tired, and there was still a long way to go. He was also a poor swimmer. Worried about falling behind, he came up with a brilliant idea.
The Rat knew that the Ox was the mightiest swimmer and a very straightforward animal who would believe anything. So, he pleaded with the Ox to let him ride on its head. The Rat tried to convince the Ox that, because he was just a small animal, he would not be able to run faster than the Ox when they reached the shore.
The Ox, being a kind and straightforward animal, agreed to let the Rat ride on its head and swim across together. As they neared the shore, the Rat quickly jumped off the Ox's back and sprinted to the finishing line, much to the Ox's disappointment. Hence, the Rat was the first to arrive, followed by the Ox.
The first year in the Chinese zodiac calendar is therefore named the Year of the Rat after the cunning Rat, and the second year is the Year of the Ox.
The Mighty Tiger
Not far behind the Ox came the Tiger. Although the Tiger is a fast animal, he had a problem when trying to cross the river. The heavy current kept pushing him downstream.
However, with all his might, he finally managed to get to shore and came third in the race.
So, the third year of Chinese zodiac calendar is the Year of the Tiger.
The Lucky Rabbit
Suddenly, the Rabbit appeared. He was all wet and looked very tired. He tried to cross the river by jumping from stone to stone, but he lost his balance, fell in and almost drowned.
Fortunately, he managed to hold on to a floating log and later made it to shore.
So, the fourth year in the Chinese zodiac calendar is the Year of the Rabbit.
The Helpful Dragon
Although the Dragon can fly, he only came in fifth. Apparently, he had to slow down because he had to make rain for all the people and all the creatures on Earth. Also, he saw the poor Rabbit holding on to the floating log, struggling to stay afloat.
The Dragon puffed and puffed his breath to push the log to shore. The Rabbit never realized that he was saved by the Dragon. That is why babies born in the Year of the Rabbit always enjoy good fortune in the Year of the Dragon!
So, the fifth year is the Year of the Dragon.
The Swift Horse and the Clever Snake
As soon as the Dragon took his seat next to the Rat, Ox, Tiger, and Rabbit, the Horse came charging in.
He thought he would be the sixth animal to arrive, but he was wrong. Unnoticed by the Horse, the Snake had clung on to his leg, and at the moment they were about to reach the finishing line, the Snake quickly jumped off! The Horse, taken by surprise, lunged backward and lost to the Snake, who claimed the sixth position.
So, the sixth year is named the Year of the Snake, and the seventh year is the Year of the Horse.
The Teamwork of the Goat, Monkey, and Rooster
Moments later, the Goat, Monkey, and Rooster came almost together.
Just before the Rooster was about to cross the river, he saw the Monkey and the Goat. He convinced them to work together and help each other when crossing the river instead of doing it all by themselves.
So, they made a raft. But it was a small raft, and it wasn't easy to steer with all three of them on it. They had to push and pull and finally managed to cross the river. Running to the finishing line, the Goat managed to arrive first, followed by the Monkey and then the Rooster.
So, the eighth year is the Year of the Goat, the ninth year is the Year of the Monkey, and the tenth year is the Year of the Rooster.
The Playful Dog and the Hungry Pig
Although the Dog was a good swimmer, he came in at eleventh place. He is a playful animal and was splashing around in the water too much, leading the others to overtake him.
So, the eleventh year is the Year of the Dog.
Long after the eleven other animals had arrived, the Pig finally appeared. In fact, Buddha had given up hope of any more animals arriving when he suddenly heard an oink.
As you might expect, the Pig was hungry, and although he was in the race, he decided to stop and eat. He ate too much, grew sleepy, and finally dozed off. He was lucky to wake up just in time to come in twelfth, the last position.
So, the twelfth year of the Chinese zodiac is the Year of the Pig.
Which Year Were You Born In?
And that's how the Chinese calendar years got their names from the animals, and that's how the Chinese zodiac signs began.
Which is your favorite Chinese New Year animal? Do you know which animal year you were born in? Check the table below to find out!
Chinese Zodiac Years and Compatibility
Just for fun, check if the following compatibility chart is accurate. Ask your friends about their zodiac signs, and see if you're compatible.
If You Were Born in This Year . . .
Years of Birth
. . . Then You Are Compatible With People Born in These Years
1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
Ox, Dragon, Monkey
1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Rat, Monkey, Rooster
1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
Dragon, Horse, Pig
1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Goat, Monkey, Dog, Pig
1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
Rooster, Rat, Monkey
1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
Tiger, Goat, Rabbit
Goat (sometimes called Sheep or Ram)
1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
Rabbit, Horse, Pig
1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029
1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030
1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031
Tiger, Rabbit, Goat
More Chinese Bedtime Story Videos
Questions & Answers
Why was the sheep not explained in the Chinese zodiac?
The Goat and Sheep are similar in the Chinese Zodiac. Hence, it will be called Year of the Goat or Year of the Sheep and sometimes even Year of the Ram. They are all the same. However, the Year of the Goat is commonly used. So, in my article, I use Goat instead of Sheep.Helpful 8
© 2012 Mazlan