The Year of the Rat

Couples hoping for a charming, hardworking and thrifty child have already lost two days in the race to meet their goal.

After all, the Year of the Rat only comes once every 12 years. Though celebrations of the Lunar New Year, observed primarily by those of Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean descent, will stretch throughout the weekend, many Asians marked the start of the new year on Thursday.

Before dismissing the Chinese Zodiac’s personality guide as so much restaurant-place-mat hooey, consider the evidence:

Jennifer Tang was born early in 1977, the year of the dragon. That means she is confident, trustworthy, loyal and brave.

Those characteristics were useful on Thursday, when she spent the day volunteering at the Diatang Temple in Lynn­wood. More than 1,000 local Buddhists climbed up and down flights of stairs that connect the temple’s altars and monasteries. Clutching handfuls of incense sticks, they bowed to dozens of Buddha statues and gingerly stepped into gilded sanctuaries.

Meanwhile, Tang helped the elderly on the stairways and directed traffic. Tang said she can be counted on to volunteer on every holiday.

“I’m someone who is a hard worker, very devoted,” she said.

According to the Chinese Zodiac, Tang, as a dragon, is most compatible with people born in the years of the snake, monkey and rat. People born in the Year of the Rat are ambitious, successful and rather charming — the perfect foil to Tang’s behind-the-scenes hard work and loyalty.

It’s no joke, said Dong Lee, a medical writer from New York City who is in Edmonds this week for a conference on healing energy.

“Every year, the energy of the universe changes,” he said. “This year may be my year, next year may be your year.”

The 12 personality types of the Chinese Zodiac are as real as the way some people are most suited to humid climates, and others to dry climates, Lee said. Those characteristics were determined when and where they were born, he said.

Still, many Americans of Asian descent take the Chinese Zodiac with a grain of salt. There’s plenty of feasting for feasting’s sake, but worshipping has begun to go the way of the endangered Chinese tiger (which, by the way, is the 2010 mascot).

“If you are within a heavily concentrated Chinese community, then the celebration is just like in China,” said Min Zhou, a sociology professor at UCLA. “But for the people who are spread out, they’re just sending electronic cards.”

At Diatang Temple, visitors were stopping in during their lunch hour. The largest crowds were in the morning, before normal working hours, Tang said.

Many of Snohomish County’s Asian immigrants are evangelical Christians, and less likely to fully celebrate the Lunar New Year. Lee, the medical writer, said that though he believes there is some value in the Chinese Zodiac system, he is a Christian, and wasn’t planning on following many Lunar New Year traditions, which are based on keeping out bad spirits and welcoming in good luck.

“I believe there are devil spirits,” he said. “I believe in their existence, but I stay away from all that.”

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

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