The intricate animated design makes reference to the progression of the Chinese zodiac animals through cartoon hand puppets.
However, this is just the beginning, hinting at a further Easter egg released by the search engine to mark the occasion: an experimental AI hand puppet game.
How does the Google shadow puppet game work?
Shadow Art with Google combines shadow puppetry with AI, and can be played here on any device with a camera.
The addictive, browser-based programme tasks players with using their hands to create the silhouettes of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac as quickly as possible.
On the right hand side of the screen an outlined hands provides a visual guide, while the AI image on the left illustrates the “shadow” the player is creating.
Once you’ve completed the correct shape, this shadow transforms into the animal itself, and you move onto the next.
Although the designs seem simple, they can provide a deceptively tricky test for the uninitiated (or inflexible), especially with a 20-second time limit on each animal.
Shadow puppetry is thought to have originated in China, with reference to the performances found in ancient texts dating back thousands of years.
In a blog for Google the producer of the game, Elaine Zhu (whose personal record to complete the zodiac is 2 minutes, 23 seconds), said its purpose was to “help connect people to this ancient art form”.
Chinese New Year – everything you need to know
In 2019 Lunar New Year, usually referred to as Spring Festival in China, begins on Tuesday 5 February.
The date is decided by a lunar calendar, with the first day of Chinese New Year falling with the new moon that appears between 21 January and 20 February.
Celebrations involve various customs – while many vary from region to region others, such as thoroughly cleaning homes and adorning them with red paper decorations, are widespread.
New Year’s Day is traditionally a time to set off fireworks and light firecrackers to ward off evil spirits, and the day is seen as an occasion to honour one’s elders.
The year of the pig is traditionally seen as the final animal of the 12-year cycle of the zodiac, and follows on from the year of the dog, which began on 16 February 2018.
According to astrological traditions people born in the year of the pig are thought to be highly social with the prospect of living fortunate, happy lives.
Chinese animal zodiac cycle
• 2008: Rat
• 2009: Ox
• 2010: Tiger
• 2011: Rabbit
• 2012: Dragon
• 2013: Snake
• 2014: Horse
• 2015: Goat
• 2016: Monkey
• 2017: Rooster
• 2018: Dog
• 2019: Pig
As well as being assigned to years in the zodiac cycle, each animal also represents a month in each season.
The month of the pig is the 10th of the Chinese year, the first month of winter, falling between the dog and the rat in the same order as the yearly cycle.