Goat, lamb, ram, sheep – whichever moniker you prefer for these occasionally woolly and generally tasty animals, it’s a yang year. And if you were born in 1967, 1979, 1991, or 2003, it’s your year too. The year is considered to take on the characteristics of the animal that rules it, so let’s see what we can expect for the coming period, as the Year of the Sheep only lasts until February 7, 2016.

First, a note on Chinese Zodiac years: if you were born a sheep, or shu yang in local parlance, then this year is your ben ming nian, sometimes expressed in English as one’s “threshold year.” There’s no direct translation, but people in China are apprehensive about their own animal year, as it is believed the year will bring greater hardship and general resistance from the universe.

The antidote? Wear red. Lots of red. Especially red underwear. Like some strain of Chinese Mormonism, wearing red, especially as undergarments, is believed to counteract some of the effects of the ben ming nian. Men will sometimes wear bracelets with charms on them, also to ward off the ben ming nian curse, and some women will wear red-threaded charms around their waists for the same purpose.

However, caution is advised: wearing red when it isn’t your ben ming nian is ill-advised unless prescribed by your feng shui practitioner. Although over-the-counter red clothing, nail polish, and lipstick are available, red is a very strong and powerful color, and misusing it can lead to unexpected pain, a run of bad luck, and other things that we expect are probably made up. Try to limit your non-ben ming nian wearing of red to Valentine’s Day, holiday-related Santa Claus appearances, and the occasional Boston Red Sox game.

This isn’t just the Year of the Sheep; it’s a wood sheep. The Chinese zodiac is based on a 12-year cycle, but there are five separate cycles, each denoted by one of the elements: wood, earth, water, fire, and metal. The elements help to explains variations in personality among people born of the same animal sign from cycle to cycle.

Although animals represent certain years, what are seen as typical characteristics of those creatures are not necessarily ascribed to people born during those years. For example, being born a snake is not nearly as auspicious as the previous Chinese Zodiac sign, that of the dragon. They are not viewed as being slippery in life and business.

Sheep, unfortunately, are viewed through the lens of their animal. They are seen as meek people who will grow up as followers, not leaders. Although sheep are usually seen as passive and wanting to stay with the herd, this is not the case for people born under that sign. There is also some superstition that they will be unlucky in various areas of their lives, including in their personal relationships and in business.

Because of this, beginning in spring 2014, parents rushed to conceive, in order for their children to be born prior to the Year of the Sheep. Some already pregnant parents have taken the unusual step of scheduling early caesarean sections to avoid the stigma of the sheep.

While this may seem like a silly superstition, in a country as large as China, it can have serious implications. A large number of parents choosing to avoid having a child creates a baby bust, just as the rush to have babies during the Year of the Dragon, considered the luckiest of birth signs, causes problems for children enrolling in schools and later in life, trying to find employment and make use of public medical services.

Sheep find their best mates in those born under the signs of pig, rabbit, and snake. These relationships work together not only for romance, but also for business, and vary as to whether the man is a sheep and the woman is one of the other signs, and vice-versa.

But for all their seeming celestial faults, those born under the sign of the sheep are seen as kind, generous, and artistic, and they are seen as good, albeit passive, caretakers with family and friends. And if we mix Chinese numerology together with the Chinese Zodiac, we see that the sheep is the eighth animal of the 12, and of course, there is no number luckier than eight.
The Year of the Sheep is generally a calm one, and should be approached as a time to maintain the current path, be generous, and try not to rock the boat. It’s not a good time to be a black sheep.

Best wishes for the Year of the Sheep. Just remember that every time you have yangrou chuan’r this year, you’re tempting fate.

More stories by this author here.

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