Is it the Year of the Sheep, Goat or Ram?

Story highlights

  • The Lunar New Year, which begins February 19, is celebrated throughout Asia
  • But should we be ushering in the Year of the Sheep, Goat or Ram?
  • It depends on how you translate the Chinese word "yang", says mythology expert

Hong Kong (CNN)The Lunar New Year is here and countries throughout Asia are celebrating.

But should we be ushering in the Year of the Sheep, Goat or Ram?
    It depends, says Isaac Yue, who teaches Chinese mythology at the University of Hong Kong.
    "The Chinese character yang can be translated as all of these animals -- even the gazelle is called yang in Chinese," he says.
    A wander through Hong Kong's streets and shopping malls yields few definitive clues.
    Store windows are decked out with cartoon-like sheep, cheeky goats and curly-horned rams in a marketing bonanza some say is bigger than Christmas in the West.
    "I'd be more inclined to translate it as goat for the simple reason if you look at the way the character yang is written, even in its ancient form, you can see that there is a pair of horns so it more closely resembles a goat than a sheep," says Yue.
    Both sheep and goats are raised in China, but the former are only found in the grasslands on the country's northern fringes. Goats are more commonplace.
    The ram -- a male sheep -- is a third candidate, preferred by some who don't like the meek, docile characteristics associated with the sheep.

    Clear choice

    Other places are clear which zodiac animal they are celebrating.
    In Vietnam, where the celebration is known as Tet, they are ringing in the Year of the Goat.
    Money changers in the country say they have struck up an unlikely trade in Nepali and Ugandan banknotes -- both feature goats -- and they have been changing hands at several times the official exchange rate as people clamor for something more unusual to stuff inside their lucky envelopes.
    Whereas in Japan, people have been busy dressing up their pets in sheep outfits and sending sheep-themed New Year postcards to mark 2015.
    In China, the annual mass migration for Spring Festival, as the celebration is often called there, is taking place, with 2.8 billion trips expected as the country heads home or on vacation for the festive period.
    Of course, the confusion over the choice of animal is unlikely to dampen the festivities, which stretch for two weeks or more, and few Chinese are troubled by the English speaking world's sheep/goat distinction, at least according to China's official news agency.
    "I've never thought about that question before. Do we have to tell them apart?" Chen Xufeng, an office clerk in Beijing, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
    "I've seen more goats in zodiac images, but I prefer to buy a sheep mascot, as sheep are more fluffy and lovely," he says.