There's more to the Chinese Zodiac than a hippety hop into year 4708 for people born under the sign of rabbit.
Rabbit babies are private, introverted and withdrawn. Or quietly charismatic, thoughtful and calm? It's hard to generalize a destiny using a centuries-old system based on natural elements, marked by fixed colors and assigned a dozen animals as they correspond to the hour, date, month and year of birth.
One thing is clear, said Elizabeth VanderVen, an assistant history professor at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J., and a specialist on Chinese and eastern Asian culture.
"Rabbits are considered to be especially lucky financially," she said, noting some believe rabbits are the luckiest of all signs in the Chinese Zodiac.
That, VanderVen said, could be especially true this year because the 2011 rabbit year corresponds with the element of metal, symbolizing great wealth.
This we can make easy sense of: Alex Rodriguez is a rabbit. Same for Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron, Drew Barrymore, Enrique Iglesias, George Orwell, Frank Sinatra, Albert Einstein and Leon Trotzky.
In Vietnam, the rabbit's not a rabbit at all but a cat, which failed to make the top 12 in China, according to legend.
The rabbit comes fourth in the zodiac's 12-year cycle. Rabbit years include 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987 and 1999 on the more international Gregorian calendar, as opposed to the luni-solar Chinese calendar that pegs 2011 as 4708.
The major holiday in Asia shifts somewhat over January and February. This year it runs Feb. 3 and always lasts for 15 days.
The Chinese calendar not only follows the 12-year cycle but characteristics within the cycle are touched by the influences of fire, earth, metal, water and wood — each with a yin (female) form and a yang (male) form. To make leap year adjustments, the colors of white, black, green, red and brown are also assigned.
This rabbit year is white yin metal, likely making the precious metal of silver prominent, so watch for lots of silver souvenirs.
"The 2011 rabbit will obtain wealth if s/he works hard and diligently," VanderVen predicts.
Her personality list for rabbits: honest, sensitive, tactful, stylish, sophisticated, virtuous and modest, but they're also viewed as snobbish, standoffish, self-righteous, oversensitive and a little unpredictable.
Boston's Brittany Falconer, 23, is a rabbit. Is she more Bugs than Jessica?
"I can't make a rabbit face like Jessica," she said, "but I guess I'm somewhat rabbit-like: quiet, observant and capable of sneakiness!"
Much of last year wasn't fueled by rabbit luck for Falconer. She graduated from college in 2009 and couldn't land a full-time job until September.
"I do think I've been very lucky in enjoying an uptick in complimentary drinks," she said.
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