Gong Hey Fat Choy!
this is the year of the snake. in china, snakes are also known as little dragons, so it seems more than appropriate that 2012 was the year of the dragon -- the yin to this year's yang. this is the year of the black water snake to be exact, according to the chinese five element astrology calendar -- more specifically, the black water snake of the wetlands. the literal translation is, the year of the snake in the grass. because calling it the year of the snake doesn't sound nearly as menacing or morose as it should, now does it.
actually, it's a little deeper than that.
chinese astronomy has a 60 year cycle that contains five 12 year cycles, with a different animal assigned to each year and a 5 element astrology calendar that seamlessly dovetails with each animal. these are two separate cycles that interact with each other. that's why you'll see every animal once every 12 years -- but you won't see that specific combination of animal and element for 60 years. not since 1953 have water and snake combined.
in china, black is the color of water (and heaven!), the element that corresponds this year with the snake, which contains mostly fire. (hm. sounds volatile. should be an interesting year.) in western culture, snakes are considered to be fairly malevolent and to some they are the epitome of evil. not surprisingly, in many asian nations, snakes are considered to be good luck. luck is a funny thing, culturally. for example, the number 13 is lucky in china, too. the digit 1 when positioned in tens sounds like the word definite (shi) in mandarin and dialects like cantonese, while the digit 3 sounds like life or giving birth. so the number 13 can mean definitely living or vibrant, or assured growth.
see? it's all a mattter of context, now isn't it.
As everyone weighs in on what kind of a year this will be -- the annual feng shui index is remarkably accurate, they say -- and everyone else overeats their way into oblivion (hi, jane!), here's a handy visual aide for the rest of us.