Last But Not Least: The Year of the Pig

By Jodie Renée Frain, Charlene Fu, Seetala Jamrerkjang, Fazlin Mance, Michael Sanderson

The Chinese zodiac calendar uses an intricate structure of counting days, months & years called the stem-branch system, to decipher and delineate the lunar years. Let’s welcome the year of the pig this 2019!

So, it’s that special time of year again—whereby the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar is so handsomely celebrated. And this means vast and glorious celebrations all over the country, and all over the globe even, as people come together with their families, friends and colleagues to mark a traditional event with various activities, festivities and more. In keeping with such ideologies of tradition and reinventing, we discovered at HERE! that we had some collective materials from previous issues, and decided to make the most of the old-school by reigniting some of that work and revamping it with a spring clean. We hope you enjoy all of our bits and pieces on the delightful “Year of the Pig” and it’s no hogwash that you are certainly supposed to pig out during this time, so enjoy it and look forward to the prosperous year ahead!

Making dumplings or “jiaozi” can be a lot of fun during this time of year, with lots of hands making light work, and eating them afterwards is certainly no chore, especially with a good chili sauce to complement them. Of course, receiving those Hongbao—red packets containing money—is certainly a generous and enjoyable custom, especially if you’re on the receiving end. However, something not so fun about this time of year is the striking noise of firecrackers when you least expect it, due to warding off evil spirits. Yet, it is traditional after all. A tip for everyone though: Among the mandarin oranges, remarkable decorations and burning incense for good luck, watch out for the traffic as the world’s biggest annual migration of people hits bus and train stations, as well as airports.

According to Chinese astrology, 2019 is a great year to make money and invest! The year will be full of joy, a year of friendship and love for all zodiac signs; an auspicious year because the Pig attracts success in all the spheres of life.

Delving into the story behind the Chinese Zodiac Calendar, there are 10 stems and 12 branches within the stem-branch system that reveals the lunar years, giving the exact elements which make up each year and what that means. Stems are named by Yin and Yang which is believed to be natural, complementary and contradictory forces. Yin represents the female negative and Yang, the male positive. Coupled with this are the five elements: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth which are considered to always be in a state of movement and development.

Thus, the stem combines to form a sequence of Yang Wood, Yin Wood, Yang Fire, Yin Fire, Yang Earth, Yin Earth, Yang Metal, Yin Metal, Yang Water and Yin Water. The elements are also associated with colors: Green (Wood), Red (Fire), Brown (Earth), White (Metal) and Black (Water). February 5 2019-January 24 2020 is the year of Yin Earth Pig.

The Branches are represented by 12 animals: The Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig which progress in a 12-year cycle and are repeated five times to form a cycle of 60 years. In each of the 12 years, an animal is prescribed an element, until all five elements have been used. This supports the 60-year cycle in the Chinese Lunar calendar.


According to the myths of the Great Race, the Pig was the last to arrive when the Jade Emperor called for the great meeting. Legend has it that just as the emperor was about to call it a day, an oink and squeal was heard from a little Pig. The Pig had become hungry during the race, promptly stopped for a feast, and then fell asleep. After the snooze, the Pig continued the race and was named the 12th and final animal of the zodiac cycle.

Piggy Phrases
What is it about pigs and their negative reputation? The word “pig” is often used in the English language, with idioms, phrases and colloquialisms that have negative connotations…

Pig: someone greedy, dirty, gross or a slang terminology which disparagingly refers to police officers, i.e., “The pigs are out on patrol.”

If pigs could fly: an impossibility, something unfathomable and unbelievable.

As sick as a pig: thoroughly displeased or disappointed about something.

That’s a porky: lies, untruths, something untrue.

Pigheaded: someone who is stubborn.

Pig in a poke: something concealed, unseen or covered up.

Piggy in the middle: someone unwillingly in between two people or groups who are arguing.

Sweating like a pig: someone who is sweating profusely.

Pig out: to consume large quantities of food, to gorge oneself and overeat. “We pigged out on pizza and fries.”

In a pig’s eye: it will never happen.

Sexist pig: generally, a male who holds chauvinistic views toward women.

Pigsty: an unclean environment. “Your bedroom is a pigsty, clean it up now!”

Piggy Bank
The piggy bank, synonymous with our childhood introduction to saving a dollar, takes on greater significance in Chinese culture. Chinese tradition dictates that at the end of the year, starting in early November, a small piggy bank is placed inside shops, department stores and supermarkets to help promote sales and good fortune for the coming New Year. Typically, these piggy banks are made from porcelain, painted a golden color and adorned prettily with vivid flowers. So ingrained is this belief, that sales of piggy banks throughout China have been brisk with manufacturers unable to keep up with demand.

The origin of piggy banks dates back almost 600 years, in a time before real banks even existed. Before the creation of modern-style banking institutions, people commonly stored their money at home—not under the mattress (or hay rack), but in common kitchen jars. During The Middle Ages, metal was expensive and rarely used for household products. Instead, dishes and pots were made of an economical orange-colored clay called “pygg.” Whenever folks could save an extra coin or two, they dropped it into one of their clay jars—a pygg pot.

Pigs with Personality
There have been innumerable pig characters represented in films and cartoons. They have often been portrayed as lovable, cute, charming and sassy.

There is the lovable, vixen-like, and sometimes intolerable Miss Piggy who had eyes only for Kermit, the love of her life.

The movie Babe, adapted from the book, The Sheep-Pig told a story of a piglet who is saved from being the farmer’s Christmas dinner when her talent for sheep-herding is noted.

“That’s all folks!” is the famous saying from the Looney Tunes animated character Porky Pig, the fat, lovable pig.

In the movie Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur the pig nearly becomes bacon but is saved by Charlotte the spider.

Peppa Pig is the star of the preschool animated TV show which first aired in 2004 and a series of books, and has become a very popular icon for children.

Hong Kong has its own pig story too, with the characters McDull and McDoug. McDull’s dream is to visit the Maldives. McDull, a kindergarten student, thinks his trip abroad has come true when his mother takes him to the Peak on a tram that has an advertisement of the Maldives on it.

No Porkies, Just Facts!
The old saying, “sweating like a pig,” is all a load of hogwash. Pigs don’t sweat as they have no sweat glands. That’s why they have to immerse themselves in mud or water to stay cool.

  • Early footballs were made from animal bladders, more often from pigs.
  • Pigs are omnivores, they eat meat and plants. In fact, pigs are scavengers and will eat anything.
  • Pigs’ manure is a valuable fertilizer and is used in compost.
  • Pigs are the world’s fourth-smartest animal and are considered more trainable than dogs. Studies have demonstrated their levels of intelligence, which have been compared with that of the average three-year-old child.
  • Many anatomical and physiological features in a pig are identical to that of a human, enabling the use of the pig’s pancreas glands as a source of insulin used to treat diabetes in humans.
  • Pig bones are used in the production of buttons and bone china.
  • In 1971 the first operation using a hog’s heart valve was surgically implanted into a human to replace a diseased heart valve.
  • Pigs are born with eight sharp teeth.
  • China produces the most pigs in the world.

Pigs, Boars & Mythology
In Belgium, the pig or boar was a sacred symbolic animal to the Celtic goddess Arduinna, patroness of Ardennes Forest. The boar was sacrificed for his blood, as it was believed that the blood could generate offspring—the perceived image of how women conceived in primitive times. Warriors crested their helmets with the image of the boar and today, Belgium’s infantry regiments—Chasseurs Ardennais—wear a boar head pin on their beret.

In Persia during the Sassanid Empire, the fourth Iranian dynasty, boars were thought of as fierce creatures and respected. The famous “spahbod” (meaning general or field marshal), Shahrbaraz who conquered Egypt, derived his name “shar” + “baraz” from the adjective “boraz,” meaning boar, which was sometimes added to a person’s name to indicate bravery and courage. The name Shahrbaraz translated to “boar of the kingdom.”

The wild boar has been the symbol of warriors for centuries. The Celts believed that the boar was their ally in war. The wild boar was also the symbol of Richard the III of England. He was king of England for two years during the 15th century.

In Hindu mythology, Varaha was the third avatar (god/goddess) of the god Vishnu, the protector of the worlds. In art, Varaha is depicted as either animal or a combination of human and animal, with a boar’s head on a man’s body. Vishnu was sent to defeat the demon Hiranyaksha, who had taken the earth and carried it to the bottom of the seas. The battle was said to continue for a thousand years before Hiranyaksha was defeated, by being carried to the bottom of the sea by Vishnu.