Once a year we find out that for the next 365 days we will be living under the protection of a certain zodiac animal, be that a dragon, a tiger, or a rabbit. But few people have ever bothered to learn why each year is assigned an animal. There are many legends about it, and all of those originate in the East. Let us examine the most popular one.
According to this legend, Gautama Buddha once summoned all animals to celebrate his birthday. To those who came, he promised, as sign of respect, to name a year after each of them. Only twelve guests came to attend the celebration, but there was an obstacle on their way, in the form of a wide and fast-flowing river. Then Gautama Buddha suggested to hold a competition, and the order in which each animal would swim across the river to him would determine their place in the Eastern calendar.
Ox was the first to swim across the river. But he paused to shake off water, in order to appear better looking before Gautama Buddha. A cunning Rat, who had clawed onto the Ox tail back on shore to get over the water, decided to get off the Ox now. And Ox shook the Rat off by accident right under the feet of Gautama Buddha. So, the Rat was granted the first year, and the Ox the second one. Next to come, and with great effort too, was Tiger, who tried to take a good place.
Gautama Buddha was so fascinated by the competition between Ox and Tiger that he failed to notice who came in fourth: Hare, Rabbit or Cat. Since then different peoples of the East keep arguing, which of these animals the 4th place in the Eastern calendar belongs to.
Up next came Dragon, Snake and Horse. In the evening, unfortunately for the animals, the mist above the river thickened and no one was able to see for sure who came in eighth: Sheep, Ram or Goat.
Monkey came in ninth. Despite being dexterous, clever and fast, Monkey decided to avoid risking life and took time to look how other animals were crossing the river in order to find the safest way.
Rooster arrived tenth, claiming to have been delayed at his family pow-wow.
Finally, Dog (who had been busy with home affairs) and Pig (granted the last year) caught up with the rest.
Residents of the Eastern countries believe that each animal passes on its traits of character to its year, so people who are born under the protection of one of these 12 zodiac signs are also endowed these traits.