We screwed up. In last week’s article about the Year of the Snake we listed some famous politicians born in a ‘Snake’ year, including Abraham Lincoln and John F Kennedy. This week we discovered we’d made a mistake.
Out of curiosity we had decided to check whether a lot of US presidents were Snakes. Then we realised that we couldn’t just look at the year of their birth, but also needed the exact dates on which China’s Lunar Year fell (it changes every year). It turns out there are two presidents who were born very close to the Chinese New Year period and, accordingly, on the cusp of two zodiac signs. One is William McKinley (he’s a Tiger, but had he been born a day later he’d be a Rabbit). The other is Abraham Lincoln. He was born on February 12, 1809; the Lunar New Year fell that year on February 14. That means he was born at the tail end of the Dragon year. So we were wrong to categorise him as a Snake.
In total five US presidents were Snakes. Aside from JFK, these were Franklin Delano Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Henry Harrison and his grandson Benjamin Harrison. And it turns out that Snakes are in a dead heat with Rats and Pigs as the most common Chinese zodiac for American commander-in-chiefs (at five each).
The first president, George Washington, was a Rat.
Representatives of all twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac have resided in the White House, but there has only ever been one Rooster: Grover Cleveland (unique too as the only president to serve non-consecutive terms and therefore the only one to be counted twice in the numbering of presidents, as 22nd and 24th).
We weren’t alone in our confusion about who qualifies for Snake status. The Shanghai Daily reports on a vibrant debate among Chinese netizens on the subject, based on the idea of when ‘Lichun’ falls. This denotes the commencement of spring and in ancient times was the date often used for determining the sign of the zodiac. Normally Lichun falls a few days before the official date of the Lunar New Year. This year it fell on February 4 (while the actual new year was celebrated on February 10).
“Netizens are all at sea over whether children born between February 4-9 this year come under the zodiac sign Dragon or Snake,” the newspaper suggested. Incidentally, if the Lichun system is used, Abraham Lincoln does count as a Snake. So, in WiC’s defence, we were at least partly right…
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