Growing up with a Chinese astrologer, I remember my mother’s forecast for me each lunar new year always had some mix of “work smart and don’t think any year is simple.” I remember finding it maddening, but it’s probably the advice I needed to hear. I fortunately don’t have to field the complicated forecast questions just yet (four year olds are not quite interested), but I do wonder how best to guide my child during this competitive year.
January 25, 2020 will be the first day of the year of the Rat. Comprised of twelve animals, the Chinese zodiac is led by the Rat, which means that this begins a new cycle and represents a time of new beginnings. The Rat sign has the reputation for being resourceful, practical, and focused on achievement.
As I get out a new planner, I wonder whether the Rat will inspire us to revamp our home, or will we finally book the international travel we’ve shied away from? I’m not sure yet, but I try to remember that breaking things up into small pieces is how the Rat gets things done behind the scenes. I like the idea that my child could spend a little time each day working on something new that he can look back on at this time next year as something he has mastered. I suppose the Rat has got this Mom motivated already!
Year of the Rat Characteristics
The Rat is well-known for her commitment to family and friends. We are beginning a year that is surely to be filled with big projects and many social engagements. While this may seem no different than usual, you will find that the Rat will encourage us to be more ambitious with our party planning and welcome more people to the table.
My mother’s story of how the Rat became the first animal of the zodiac sums up the Rat sign’s go-getter nature and ability to bring people together. When the Lord Buddha was leaving the Earth, he asked the Rat and the Rooster to spread the word to the animal kingdom. The Rat, aware of its speed and size, teamed up with the Ox to cover more ground and inform everyone they could. Thorough and punctual, the two animals were first to the going away party. In gratitude, the Lord Buddha was going to give the Ox the honor of the first position of the zodiac, but the Rat jumped down from the Ox’s shoulders to argue its case for the prize. The Ox, as honest a sign as it comes, supported the Rat’s position, and the Rat earned the top spot, with the Ox right behind.
Often underestimated, this animal’s quiet and cheerful nature can lull others into thinking it doesn’t like to win. Far from it, the Rat loves a good competition (as well as good bit of gossip), and this year’s Metal Rat is one of the fiercest of the bunch.
In Chinese astrology, there are five elements which are associated with each sign: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Similar to how we call Taurus an Earth sign, these elements are used to associate characteristics of each Chinese Zodiac animal. Metal years, like 2020, are associated with properties of resolution and self-reliance which will compound the Rat's already focused nature.
What 2020 Has in Store for Parents
Rats like to stay busy, and the Metal Rat is especially motivated to do as much as possible. Families will find that the year of the Metal Rat will be unusually busy, but one where much is accomplished. Friends and family will draw on the community to help out. While many of these events can feel like a chore, the family and neighborhood will undoubtedly become stronger as a result. The amount of activity this year will require even more organization than usual. Rat natives delight in these details, but those born in years such as the Horse, Tiger, and Boar will be tempted to rush through projects and pay the price of doing the same work twice.
One animal’s joy is another’s learning experience. The Rat’s environment is one that is constantly blending work and home. Those born in the year of the Rat will find these conditions only natural. The Ox will find that he can easily strike a good balance between the two and finally complete things that have been waiting to be crossed of her list. Those born in the year of the Dog will enjoy the new responsibilities that the Rat bestows on him and finds a lot of satisfaction in helping others learn new things. Highly social animals such as the Dragon, Monkey, or Sheep will draw energy and motivation from the year’s activity. However, signs such as the Snake or the Rooster, who prefer a hardline between their public and private lives, will be constantly fighting the urge to run for the door when the social pressures become overwhelming.
If you’re one that draws energy and excitement from being in the company of others, this year will fill you with new friendships and many networking opportunities to get ahead at work, school, or get a leg up in social circles—if that’s your thing. Other more private animals can easily feel like there is just too much going on to find peace. When these times strike, every sign should never be afraid to politely bow out. The Rat is one that gets things done little by little. The Rat at heart is one that truly believes in the more the merrier. This means that this is a year with many opportunities to spend time with others as well as earn extra credit for the missed class or two.
Laura Lau is a writer and mom based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Wedding Feng Shui and co-author of The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes (North Atlantic Books), now in its 40th anniversary edition.