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It’s the Year of the Rabbit and, finally, we can all chill

While the Year of the Tiger was seen as a powerful period of action, and, at times, impulse, the rabbit sign is expected to usher in a softer period focused on self-reflection.
Illustration of red rabbits jumping through an illuminated 2023.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

It’s the Year of the Rabbit and we should all be focusing on rest, introspection and working smarter not harder. 

The Lunar New Year, celebrated primarily by Chinese diasporas and other East Asian cultures as well as the Vietnamese, will begin on Sunday, kicking off 15 days of festivities and customs. While the preceding Year of the Tiger was seen as a powerful period of action, and, at times, impulse, the rabbit sign is expected to usher in a softer period focused on self-reflection, Jonathan H. X. Lee, an Asian and Asian American studies professor at San Francisco State University, told NBC News. 

“There is a lot of possibility for prosperity and flourishing, and for peace, really,” said Lee, whose research focuses on religions and folklore. “The rabbit is a very strong symbol for peace.”

Lee added that to make the most of the year, people should also behave in accordance with this tranquil energy. 

“There needs to be a moment of introspection and thoughtfulness in being, in action, and for the intention of long-term success,” said Lee. “You’re going to be much more conservative and reflective in your decision-making.”

Additionally, the years are further classified as one of two sides of the yin yang symbol. This year is considered yin, and, compared to its light, more active counterpart, emphasizes the importance of rest, Lee said. 

The rabbit is a symbol of intellect and cautiousness. As the lore goes, the rabbit was among the 12 animals who raced to the Jade Emperor in a cosmic contest that ultimately determined the order of the Chinese zodiac signs. Though it was a weak swimmer, the rabbit used its brain, opting to cross the river portion of the course on a raft. Like the animal, Lee said, it’s important to approach everything in a smart, deliberate way. 

“If you look at the economy and real estate, last year was a year dictated by FOMO. ‘I have to go get mortgage rates for all-time low, I have to go buy something,’” Lee said. “This year, it’s not going to be the same. You’re not just going to jump in and get any kind of loan and offer anything on a house. … If you did just jump in because of FOMO, you’re going to have a whole slew of issues.”  

The rabbit in the Chinese zodiac also speaks to the power of empathy. At one point in the race, the rabbit found itself stuck in the water. The dragon, who was flying overhead, opted to finish behind its woodland friend, blowing a heavy gust of wind to help send the rabbit across the finish line. The act speaks to the importance of both giving and receiving compassion, Lee said. 

Other Chinese and Buddhist mythology confirm the rabbit’s role in fostering empathy, Lee explained. In one Buddhist story, an old man and child were lost in the wilderness, hungry and cold. The Buddha, who took the form of a rabbit, started a fire and hopped into the flames, thus sacrificing itself to nourish the two, Lee said. 

For the Asian American community in particular, the past year has been one of organizing and aggressive mobilization against anti-Asian hate, Lee said. But the rabbit can teach us to value some everyday, meaningful gestures that can nurture our relationships.  

“This year is maybe calling upon us to be more outward thinking. What do others around me need? What does my community need? What does my country need? How can I make myself of service to my community?” Lee said. 

There are other aspects to the upcoming holiday that also affirm a calmer energy. The year falls under the water sign, Lee explained. And though water, one of five elements in the cycle, can be a powerful force, it can also be seen through a more Daoist lens that implies going with the flow rather than fighting it. 

“It’s about coming to the realization that there needs to be some self-care in order to continue to care for others, because there’s going to be burnout,” Lee said. “It is a time for taking inventory of a situation and then making the best choice with the resources that we do have … How we can really resolve and put an end to anti-Asian hate that’s still going on?” 

For those who are born under Rabbit years (2023, 2011, 1999, 1987 and so forth) should aim to behave extra cautiously, as the consequences for their actions are magnified, Lee said. 

“If they are thoughtful and smart and clever and witty in their decision-making and in their life choices, they can flourish the most in terms of their prosperity and health and longevity,” he said. “Conversely, if they’re not, those are gonna be hard times.”