Year of the Black Dragon

Taken by Jackie Pennington
The Dragon is out and ready to prowl!

What exactly is the Chinese New Year? Why are the years named after animals? The answer lies in more than thousands of years ago. While the Western calendar (called the Gregorian calendar) only goes back about 430 years, the Chinese calendar goes back more than 4,000 years. Why? 4,709 years ago, the Yellow King, the first king of China (not emperor), was inaugurated eight days before our January 1st new year tradition. The Yellow King marks the beginning of time for the Chinese. The Chinese New Year isn’t counted the same way the Gregorian calendar is. Rather than by day, the Chinese use the lunar calendar. The New Year begins on the day of the first new moon, rather than on January 1st like on the Gregorian calendar.
In addition, China’s lunar calendar is named after an element and an animal each year . The Chinese use the Stem-Branch system to count. There are ten stems and twelve branches in the system. Every year is named after a stem and a branch. The stems are named by Yin-Yang and the five elements—Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth. The stem would then proceed as Yang Wood, Yin Wood, Yang Fire, Yin Fire and through the elements in order of Earth, Metal, and Water, respectively. The branches are named after the animals of the zodiac —rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram (or sheep or goat), monkey, rooster, dog or pig. With this system, a cycle of sixty counting systems are used, beginning with wooden Rat (Yang) and ending with water Pig (Yin). That means one complete cycle lasted from the years 1924 to 1983.
The Chinese New Year may begin on the day of the new moon, but it doesn’t end until 15 days later. During these days, the Chinese celebrate with family by reuniting, giving thanks, and honoring Heaven and Earth, the gods of the household, and their ancestors. The last day of the New Year, the fifteenth day, is the Lantern Festival, which occurs at night with lanterns and parading children.
January 23rd started the year of the Water Dragon or Black Dragon because it is a Yang year. So rather than bemoaning how over a month of your new year has already passed and how you’ve already broken your New Year’s Resolutions, check out the Chinese New Year and discover something wholly new. If you want to take a deeper look into the Chinese New Year, check out,, or

By Rachael Prettenholfer

VM News


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