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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.
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.
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.
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
|Preparation day, mainly for thorough house-cleaning, and cooking.|
|January 24th|| 12th month, 30th day
|New Year’s Eve
|The most important celebration, includes the family reunion dinner, and staying up until midnight.|
|January 25th|| 1st month, 1st day
|New Year's Day
|A day for visiting/greeting family and relatives, giving presents, and visiting ancestors' graves.|
|January 26th|| 1st month, 2nd day
(迎婿日 Yíngxùrì, or
|Married women visit their parents with the husband and children.|
|January 27th|| 1st month, 3rd day
|Day of the Rat
|An ominous day, common to stay at home and rest with family, play games.|
|January 28th|| 1st month, 4th day
|Day of the Sheep
|An auspicious day, for prayer and giving offerings, or going to temples or fortune tellers.|
|January 29th|| 1st month, 5th day
|Commonly accepted as the day when taboos (from previous days) can be broken.|
|January 30th|| 1st month, 6th day
|Day of the Horse
|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
|Day of Mankind
|Believed to be the day people were created. Encouraged to spend out in nature.|
|February 1st|| 1st month, 8th day
|Day of the Grain
|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
|The 'Jade Emperor's' birthday. giving offerings, lighting incense, and setting off firecrackers.|
|February 3rd|| 1st month, 10th day
|The birthday of the 'god stone', similar to the previous day's rituals.|
|February 4th|| 1st month, 11th day
|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
|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.|
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|
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
See more on Chinese New Year Travel Tips.
Check out some of our Chinese New Year tour ideas! Here are some of our top recommendations: