With the appearance of the new moon last evening a goodly portion of the world’s population welcomed in a New Year: the year of the Earth Dog – Wu-Xu, the 35th year in the 60 year cycle of the Chinese Calendar. And though we tend to think of it as Chinese Festival it is celebrated with many of the same traditions in other countries in Asia – Tết Nguyên Đán, the Feast of the First Morning of the First Day in Vietnam began today. And in one form or other the New Year is observed in Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia – and almost any place where there is a large Asian presence.
And of course people are turning to the Asian Zodiac for predictions for the New Year.
You will notice that there are twelve animals in the Asian Zodiac. However have you ever noticed that one animal is conspicuous by its absence: the cat. The dog, her traditional enemy is there as is the rat, her traditional prey. But unless you count the tiger there is no tabby present amongst the sacred twelve. Where in does lie a story.
At one time the Dog, Rat, and Cat were great friends – wherever one was seen the other two were sure to be nearby. One day the Jade Emperor decided to create a map of the sky or Zodiac to guide his earthly subjects. A message was sent out to all the animal kingdom commanding that they present themselves at the Celestial Throne. It was further decreed that the first twelve animals to arrive would be honoured with stars on the Zodiac along with the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.
All the animals were in a state of excitement and none more so than than the three friends. Unfortunately the Cat had a bad habit of oversleeping but assumed that her two friends would wake her when the time came to set out. In their excitement – and in their desire to be the first – the Dog and the Rat forgot about waking their friend and at the appointed hour set off. Along the road to the Celestrial Throne they met the Horse, Tiger, Ox, Snake and other animals. All the animals wanted to be honoured with a place on the Heavenly map; however like many travellers a few got delayed or waylaid by adventures, or sometimes misadventures. But those stories would be for another time as our concern is for the trio of friends.
The Rat noticed that the Ox seemed to be making the greatest progress and being a bit of a sly one he pleaded weariness and ask for a ride on the Ox’s back. The Ox agreed provided the Rat would help the hours pass with singing (rats being known for their glorious voices and endless repertoire of songs and ballads). The Rat, who loved to sing and indeed knew a number of songs, climbed on the Ox and proceed to entertain his burly transporter all the way to the portals of the Jade Emperor’s Throne Room. Only once did he interrupt his carolling: he saw his friend the Dog and called out to him but the Dog was occupied with chasing a stick that was being thrown by a little boy and did not answer him.
Meanwhile back at their home the Cat aroused herself from her slumber, stretched, licked her paws, and looked around. Where were her friends? Then she remembered – the Zodiac, the Jade Emperor, the journey to the Celestial Throne. Her friends had forgotten her! Without even pausing to groom herself further she took off.
As the Ox approached the presence of the Jade Emperor he gave a little snort, he was almost assured of first place as the other animals were lagging behind. But as they reached the portals of the Celestial Throne Room the Rat jumped off his back and scurried across the room, ran up to the feet of the Jade Emperor and made his references. The Jade Emperor declared him the first animal of the Zodiac. The Rat, always a bit full of himself, resisted the urge to stick out his tongue at the animals behind him as he was led to a place of honour. The Ox was not pleased but it would have been impolite to snarl and stomp in the presence of the Celestial Gods and since he was a placid creature by nature he accepted his place with quiet dignity. The other animals followed: the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Ram, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog and the Pig.
Our friend the Dog was a little disappointed when the Jade Emperor failed to notice the stick he had dropped at his feet but wagged his tail with joy at being amongst the chosen. The Pig, who had stopped for final roll in a mud puddle and had to wash before entering the Celestial presence, had just placed his snout on the foot of the Jade Emperor when our friend the Cat came scampering across the crystal floor. But she was too late, if only by a whisker.
Cat turned and glared at her two untrustworthy friends. Dog, not always the quickest of beasts, approached his old friend expecting her to full well rejoice in his good fortune. He was startled when she hissed at him and showed her sharp claws. He made several other approaches but each time was rebuffed by his former friend. When Rat saw the greeting Dog was getting he scurried away hotly pursued by the Cat bent on having her revenge. The chase caused a small uproar in the Celestial Throne Room and it was noted that the Jade Emperor was seen to frown.
We do not know if Cat caught Rat on that occasion but we do know that the bond of friendship that had encircled the friends had been broken. Cat’s ancestors have never forgiven Dog and Rat for their duplicity. To this very day when a dog approaches a cat they are often rebuffed in the rudest manner and fights have been known to break out sometimes with sad results. And as for rats, well we know their fate if caught by a cat.
On this day in 1863: A group of citizens of Geneva founded an International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, which later became known as the International Committee of the Red Cross.