Home Chinese Festivals Chinese New Year The Chinese New Year Calendar

The Chinese New Year Calendar: Key Dates and Customs

chinese new year celebrationDuring the Chinese New Year calendar period families reunite, buy and give presents, and decorate their homes.

Chinese New Year is not just one day but over 20 days of festivities and activities, which have their own calendar: the Chinese New Year calendar.

Although the Chinese New Year festival usually falls during the winter months of January and February (and even extends into March about one year in six) on the Gregorian calendar, the festival signals the beginning of spring according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Its common name in China is the 'Spring Festival'.

Chinese New Year's Day marks the start of a new year and the most propitious time in the minds of most Chinese people, and there are many beliefs and superstitions associated with this. That is why the Chinese New Year calendar is full of days of prescribed observances, both before and after Lunar New Year's Day.

Laba Festival (Jan. 2, 2020): Old Chinese New Year Calendar Start

Traditionally, the start of the Chinese New Year calendar is 'The Laba Festival' (腊八节 Làbājié), which occurs about three weeks before Chinese New Year's Day and is celebrated separately. Religious activities and preparations for Lunar New Year would begin on this day. Now it is seldom celebrated, apart from in very rural communities.

The Traditional Chinese New Year Calendar Period: 13 Key Dates

This year’s Spring Festival (春节 Chūnjié) period of traditional celebrations will fall mainly between January 24th and February 8th. This is Chinese New Year's Eve and the 1st to the 15th days of the first month of the Chinese lunar year.

  • 'Little Year' (Xiaonian), like Laba, is another traditional preparation day, which is more commonly observed in rural areas than Laba nowadays.
  • Chinese New Year’s Eve (January 24, 2020) is the main start of the Chinese New Year calendar period for most Chinese people.
  • The 15th and last day of the festival is the Lantern Festival.

Each day of the 15-day long festival has a name, and usually an assigned purpose or meaning. Below is a table of all the important dates and their meanings. Keep in mind that different regions and minorities may celebrate the days on different dates, or have different names or practices for certain days.

Solar Date (2020) Lunar Date Title Purpose / Meaning
 January 17th  12th month, 23rd day Little Year
(小年 Xiǎonián)
Preparation day, mainly for thorough house-cleaning, and cooking.
 January 24th  12th month, 30th day
除夕 (Chúxì)
New Year’s Eve
(除夕 Chúxì)
The most important celebration, includes the family reunion dinner, and staying up until midnight.
 January 25th  1st month, 1st day  
初一 (Chūyī)
New Year's Day
初一 (Chūyī)
A day for visiting/greeting family and relatives, giving presents, and visiting ancestors' graves.
 January 26th  1st month, 2nd day  
初二 (Chū'èr)
In-Law’s Day
(迎婿日 Yíngxùrì, or
开年 Kāinián)
Married women visit their parents with the husband and children.
 January 27th  1st month, 3rd day  
初三 (Chūsān)
Day of the Rat
(鼠日 Shǔrì)
An ominous day, common to stay at home and rest with family, play games.
 January 28th  1st month, 4th day
 初四 (Chūsì)
Day of the Sheep
(羊日 Yángrì)
An auspicious day, for prayer and giving offerings, or going to temples or fortune tellers.
 January 29th  1st month, 5th day  
初五 (Chūwǔ)
Break Five
(破五 Pòwǔ)
Commonly accepted as the day when taboos (from previous days) can be broken.
 January 30th  1st month, 6th day  
初六 (Chūliù)
Day of the Horse
(马日 Mǎrì)
Believed to be the best day to get rid of old, unwanted things. Also an acceptable day to resume labor.
 January 31st   1st month, 7th day  
初七 (Chūqī)
Day of Mankind
(人日  Rénrì)
Believed to be the day people were created. Encouraged to spend out in nature.
 February 1st  1st month, 8th day  
初八 (Chūbā)
Day of the Grain
(谷日节  Gǔrìjié)
Good weather on this day will symbolize good crops for the year. Many families will have a second 'mini' reunion dinner
 February 2nd  1st month, 9th day  
初九 (Chūjiǔ)
Providence Health
(天公生 Tiāngōngshēng)
The 'Jade Emperor's' birthday. giving offerings, lighting incense, and setting off firecrackers.
 February 3rd  1st month, 10th day  
初十 (Chūshí)
Stone Festival
(石头节 Shítoujié)
The birthday of the 'god stone', similar to the previous day's rituals.
 February 4th  1st month, 11th day  
初十一 (Chūshíyī)
Son-in-Law Day
(子婿日 Zǐxùrì)
Fathers are expected to 'entertain' or treat their son-in-laws on this day. 
 February 5th – 7th  1st month, 12th – 14th day  
初十二 - 初十四 (Chūshí'èr - Chūshísì)
Lantern Day Preparations Preparations for the lantern festival: cooking, making lanterns, etc.
 February 8th  1st month, 15th day  
初十五 (Chūshíwǔ)
Lantern Festival
(元宵节  Yuánxiāojié)
Marks the end of the festival. Lanterns are lit and hung or flown, people watch dragon dances in the streets, and children answer lantern riddles.  

Chinese New Year's Day and the Chinese Zodiac Cycle

chinese zodiac: year of the rat

Every year in China is symbolized by one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac

This Chinese calendar year, beginning on Chinese New Year's Day (January 25th, 2020), is the year of the Rat, the first animal of the zodiac cycle, associated with charm and entrepreneurial spirit.

As the traditional Chinese calendar is lunar, Chinese New Year falls on a different day (of the Gregorian Calendar) each year. 

These are the Chinese New Year's Day dates of the last 10 and the coming 10 years.

Year Chinese New Year's Day Chinese Zodiac Animal
2010 February 14 Tiger
2011 February 3 Rabbit
2012 January 23 Dragon
2013 February 10 Snake
2014 January 31 Horse
2015 February 19 Sheep
2016 February 8 Monkey
2017 January 28 Chicken
2018 February 16 Dog
2019 February 5 Pig
2020 January 25 Rat
2021 February 12 Ox
2022 February 1 Tiger
2023 January 22 Rabbit
2024 February 10 Dragon
2025 January 29 Snake
2026 February 17 Horse
2027 February 6 Sheep
2028 January 26 Monkey
2029 February 13 Chicken
2030 February 3 Dog

The Modern Chinese New Year Calendar: Key Dates

As this is usually the most anticipated festival of the year, much like Christmas in the West, almost everyone in China has a relatively long vacation to reunite with their families. School holidays are four weeks long and migrant workers abandon their factory and construction jobs for weeks to return home. 

Chinese New Year decorations stallsStalls selling Chinese New Year decorations etc. spring up streetside in the weeks before the festival.

The first day of the Chinese New Year calendar is rarely the actual 'start' of the festival, and preparations begin days, and sometimes weeks before.

Retail Peak: The Big Shop and Clean for a Month before CNY (Dec. 2019 to Jan. 24, 2020)

Chinese New Year items like fireworks and firecrackers, religious items, and decorations start appearing in stalls and shops from about a month before Chinese New Year. Most people will raid malls and shopping centers for Chinese New Year gift-shopping, and clean their homes thoroughly. Families who host the reunion dinner will start food preparations well in advance.

The Chinese New Year Migration: 40 Days of Many Journeys (Jan. 10 to Feb 18, 2020)

A crowded Chinese railway station, the Chinese New Year travel rushCrowded Chinese railway stations are a symptom of the Chinese New Year travel rush.

The Chinese New Year Travel Rush is said to begin 2 weeks before Chinese New Year's Day and last 40 days.

In the days leading up to the festival, the whole country mobilizes, with people going home to be with family. Each year, the festival breaks the record of the previous year’s largest human migration worldwide. Some 400 million people are expected to mobilize, whether to leave the major cities to go to the rural countryside where their families reside, or to go travel abroad.

After the festival, trains and other transport fill to capacity again as Chinese people return to the cities to work.

Chinese New Year School Holidays: 4 Weeks Off! (Jan. 18 to Feb. 16, 2020)

Chinese Red EnvelopesChinese children enjoy a long Chinese New Year holiday and "lucky money".

Schools typically close for Spring Festival vacation from the Saturday a week before Chinese New Year's Day until the Sunday after Lantern Festival, four weeks later. It is seen as important to allow children to be at home to prepare and celebrate with family.

The Chinese New Year Public Holiday: 7 Days Off (Jan 24–30, 2020)

Offices, banks, factories, shops, and most non-essential services will close doors for a week's holiday. Hotels, restaurants, and large retail outlets stay open and may even be busier than usual! Hotel prices can double or triple!

The Chinese New Year Lull: The Eve and Days 1 to 3 (Jan. 24–27, 2020)

More interesting perhaps, is what happens for a brief period, like the calm in the eye of a storm, from Chinese New Year’s Eve. Anyone who has been to China surely knows about its overwhelmingly crowded streets; but once a year, on the evening of the Spring Festival, there is the rare occasion of seeing almost completely empty and quiet streets, as surely almost everyone is at home with their families for the reunion dinner.

Traveling China During the Chinese New Year Calendar Period

Chinese New Year Lantern Festival

Although the festive atmosphere throughout the whole country is a very exciting thing to be a part of, there are some things to keep in mind if choosing to travel within China at these times.

  • Many venues (shops, restaurants, bars, and some attractions) will be closed for at least the first 5 days.
  • Due to the high demand in the travel sector, most flights and train tickets will be in short supply, and flights and hotel rooms will be much more expensive.

See more on Chinese New Year Travel Tips.

Clear your Chinese New Year Calendar for a China Highlights Tour!

Hong KongChinese New Year fireworks are the biggest firework phenomenon in the world!

Check out some of our Chinese New Year tour ideas! Here are some of our top recommendations:

We offer many more recommendations for China Tours. Our tours are customizable, to fit your every need! Just tell us your interests and requirements and we will help you to tailor-make a tour.

Related Articles