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This week I will write about something other than COVID-19. From what I can tell, that subject is being pretty well covered.

In contrast, the Year of the Rat is receiving little attention, except for people who are scratching their heads and asking "What is the Year of the Rat?" The brief answer is "Something China sent to us many years ago. It's part of their zodiac."

Zodiac comes from Greek words describing the circle of 12 30-degree divisions of the sun's daily path around our globe. (12 x 30 = 360. Got it?)

Somehow the word zodiac got involved with astrology, and found one of its eventual homes in China. Astrology eventually gave birth to mythology, whose practitioners invented a fellow named the Jade Emperor. One day he said, "Let's have some fun. Let's choose 12 different animals, split up the year into 12 parts, and assign one animal to each section."

The first animal chosen was the rat. Then came the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The omission of the cat from this esteemed circle is lost in the dim recessions of Asian lore. Same thing goes for the absence of a jackass. As we all know, jackasses have been a major influence in history, both as humans and animals.

The celebration of the 2020 Year of the Rat began on Jan. 25 and ended a short time later, on Feb. 11. The rat fanciers must now wait another 12 years, until 2032, to kick up their heels, or flip their tails. For all we know, Donald Trump may still hold some kind of public office in 2032. Some folks feel he should be assigned to the year of the dragon or snake, while millions regard him as a tiger. Take your pick.

Persons born in a Year of the Rat are said to be masters of organization, who can expect a smooth and prosperous year ahead. So if you know a stockbroker who qualifies as a Rat, stay close to him or her.

As I researched the Year of the Rat, I was astounded to learn that possibly one-fifth of the world's population celebrates the Chinese New Year. Most of them live in China and other regions of Asia, but not exclusively. I have lived in many places, and in many years, but I've never run across a Chinese New Year's party.

I wish I had done so. The participants reportedly have a great time. They swap gifts, have family reunions, cook wonderful meals, and hold parades. They even have a bad-luck superstition. It says if you cut your hair, or even wash it, during the beginning weeks of the New Year period, you will regret it.

People have asked "Why should we honor something as lowly as a rat?"

The answer, according to Wikipedia, is that the founders of the Chinese New Year felt that rats have spirit, wit, alertness, delicacy, flexibility and vitality. I've known a few rats in my time, and I would agree.

My belated attention to the Year of the Rat and its origins was triggered by my girlfriend Carolina Moon. She lives in Gulfport with other culture-aware folks, and recently went ape (catch that animal reference?) over a series of Chinese New Year stamps available for sale from the U.S. Postal Service. They vary in price. They are distinctive paintings, produced by accomplished artists.

It's interesting that the 2020 Year of the Rat should coincide with the current worldwide onslaught of the coronavirus. Both have origins traceable to China. Should this give trolls and other China-haters new divisive meat to chew on? Let's hope not. Indications are that COVID-19 may ultimately do more to unify the human race than to fragment it.

Note to any veteran zodiac experts out there: If the foregoing essay sounds a trifle sketchy to you, it should. I'll try to do a more complete job next January, as the Year of the Ox begins.

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