ramChinese astrology, like Western astrology, has 12 signs, but instead of changing every month, they change every year. Each animal in the Chinese zodiac has its own unique qualities that affect everyone, if you believe in this sort of thing, which I totally do. On January 23, 2012, we enter the year of the dragon, which is roughly equivalent to Aries, which means we're all in for a year of ramming our heads into things, filing our hooves, and being competitive for no reason.

Even with only 12 signs, Chinese astrology runs on a 60-year cycle. Elements come into play (earth, fire, water, wood, and metal), as well as our old friends yin (female) and yang (male). So as we leave 2011, the year of the yin metal rabbit, 2012 will be the year of the yang water dragon, 2013 will be the year of the yin water snake, and so on forever until you don't need to care anymore because you'll be dead.

Let's talk about what sign you are!

If you're born in January or early February, like me, and you think you already know your birth sign because you read it on a placemat in a Chinese restaurant when you were a kid, chances are it was wrong. Placemats always say something like "1996 = Rat" when it would be more accurate to say, "February 19, 1996 to February 7, 1997 = Rat" because Chinese New Year comes a month after Western New Year. So if you're born in January of 1996, you're not a Rat, you're actually a Pig. That might come as a relief to you, because pigs are awesome but, as we'll see, Rats have their charms, too. (Go here and look up your birthday if you're not sure.)

RAT (1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008) -- If you're born in a rat year, you're tenacious, charming, and clever. Remember Templeton in Charlotte's Web? Who turned out to be a good guy after all, even though he hoarded rotten eggs? You make a good friend, being loyal and generous to those in your pack. You might be greedy, envious, and manipulative, though, so watch it. Compatible with Dragon and Monkey.

OX (1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009) -- The ox is powerful, calm, goal-oriented, and patient, which is a nice way of saying stubborn as hell. You can also be introverted, and sometimes lonely and insecure, and now I want to give you a hug. Wait, George Clooney is an Ox. Now I really want to give you a hug. Compatible with Snake and Rooster.

TIGER (1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010) -- You are one sexy animal, tiger, as well as being daring, restless, unpredictable, warm, and sincere. I'm picturing you taking a long nap on a tree limb with your legs dangling down, because maybe you ate a python for lunch. That's not a suggestive metaphor, that's just you being super casual about the fact that you're the Angelina Jolie of what's left of the jungle. Compatible with Horse and Dog.

RABBIT (1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011) -- Aw, you're a bunny! Me, too. Soft, gracious, elegant, shy, lucky, and kind of a pushover, you like to be around friends and family but you hate it when people try to pick you up by your ears. Or cut off your foot for good luck. Not cool, people, I need that foot. Sheesh. Compatible with Sheep and Pig.

DRAGON (1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012) -- Dragons are dignified, fiery, warm-hearted, competitive, and make good leaders. They can also be eccentric, arrogant, and they will blast people who annoy them with some scary verbal fire. That can really scour the enamel off your teeth, Dragon, so try to keep your cool and see your dentist regularly. Compatible with Monkey and Rat.

SNAKE (1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013) -- Snakes are deep, mystical, good with money, a little dangerous, gregarious, and intuitive. They can also be mistrustful, cold (unless they stay under their heat lamps), and suffocating (if they decide they want to keep you forever and/or eat you head-first). Compatible with Rooster and Ox.

HORSE (1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014) -- Horses need to roam, which some people think makes them fickle, unmoored, and anxious. But horse lovers know that all that muscle, mental and otherwise, needs to be used or else it goes soft! Cheerful and popular, overworked horses have also been known to fall asleep standing up. Just throw a blanket over them, they'll be fine. Compatible with Dog and Tiger.

SHEEP (1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015) -- Sheep are shy, peaceful loners who love nothing more than mothering the heck out of somebody. This also means that they worry a lot, so if you have a Sheep for a parent, they'll freak out extra if they haven't heard from you lately. They just need a little reassurance to keep them warm and fluffy. Compatible with Pig and Rabbit.

MONKEY (1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016) -- Monkeys are inventors and problem-solvers. They love facts and can get a little competitive; they can be the type who always needs to be right, and frankly they're somewhat vain. What they really need is to have some fun! Get laid, Monkeys! That's what Tom Hanks does when he's feeling low! Compatible with Rat and Dragon.

ROOSTER (1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017) -- You might think a Rooster would be strutting around, waking people up far too early in the morning, but actually Roosters are neat, organized, conservative, and a little bit proud of themselves. Dolly Parton is a Rooster, which makes me wonder what's underneath all those sequins. Hmm. Compatible with Ox and Snake.

DOG (1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018) -- Dogs can be, well, Dogs. Sure, they're loyal, fair, and unpretentious, but look out for those little white lies they tell you, girlfriend. They can be a little moody and have trouble finding true love unless they can stay in touch with their open-minded, affectionate side, and have regular baths to keep the fleas away. Compatible with Tiger and Horse.

PIG (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019) -- Wilbur! Babe! Pigs are the best. Always ready to help out a friend and never snobbish, a Pig will be happy to help you move that sofa, as long as she's properly thanked in return. A naive, gullible Pig will soon be your worst enemy if you take advantage. Glenn Close is a Pig. Remember Fatal Attraction? Don't mess with Pigs. Compatible with Rabbit and Sheep.

Ram photo by Dave Hamster/Flickr

Pig photo by The Pug Father/Flickr