Year of the Rat: Cullman Library celebrates Chinese New Year

The Panda Express mascot paid a visit to the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration at the Cullman County Public Library Saturday. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Chinese New Year will be celebrated in many parts of the world this Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. This past Saturday at the Cullman County Public Library, the Friends of the Public Libraries of Cullman County (FPLCC), with the help of Panda Express, held a fun, educational event for area children ahead of the worldwide festivities.

Participants were treated to a lesson on the culture, legend and activities surrounding Chinese New Year, along with lunch from Panda Express and a visit from the restaurant’s mascot, Pei-Pei.

The Chinese calendar is divided into 12 year cycles, and each year is represented by one of the 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac; 2020 is the Year of the Rat. The rat symbolizes vitality and intelligence. 

Celebration of the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, can be traced by to the ancient Chinese legend of a ferocious monster named “Nian” with sharp teeth and horns. It was said Nian lived in the sea, but it would appear on land at the end of the lunar year to hunt both people and livestock. Because of this, villagers would evacuate to the remote mountains on the eve of the new year.

On one particular New Year’s Eve, a strange old man taught the people Nian is scared of three things: loud noises, fire and the color red! After Nian’s defeat, the people started celebrating the new moon and triumph over the beast. That celebration became a 15-day festival.

Now, the Chinese New Year is represented by the 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac, which were chosen by the Jade Emperor centuries ago. According to the legend of the Chinese Zodiac, the Jade Emperor held a great race, with the first 12 animals to reach his palace being the winners, and they would each get a year named after them in their honor. The animals were the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. During the race, the Ox was in the lead, but was slowed down due to a strong river, with the Rat right behind him. The Rat could not swim well, so the Ox kindly carried the Rat on his back across the river, where the Jade Emperor waited on the other side with the finish line. When the Ox got close to land, the Rat leaped and made it across the finish line in first place. This is why in the first year of the Chinese Zodiac Calendar is the Year of the Rat.

The FPLCC’s Renee Welsh shared about Saturday’s event, “Today was off the charts! A huge ‘xièxiè’ (thank you) to Panda Express for not only providing the curriculum, but lunch and the panda mascot. I want to give a huge shout-out for the Cullman Library for allowing us to have this event today. The Friends of the Public Libraries of Cullman County recognizes the importance of a library being a necessity in life- not just a structure that houses the written word and electronic word, but it’s a home for children, senior citizens and students that are looking for a quiet place to study.”

Welsh noted that Saturday morning’s event welcomed 35 participants.

FPLCC President Tanya Allcorn said, “We’re very excited that our community wanted to come out and learn more about diversity and have interest in other cultures’ events as well. We’re thrilled that our events can include different cultures and different culture diversity, and we’re thrilled that our community supports that.”

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