17 Things about Chinese New Year You Must Want to Know
Chinese Festivals and Events

17 Things about Chinese New Year You Must Want to Know

By CindyUpdated Mar. 18, 2021

Chinese New Year (CNY) is China's most important traditional festival, with many interesting customs. Why Chinese New Year is so important? You must be very curious about why the Chinese do what they do...

1. What Is Chinese New Year?

Chinese New YearFamily get together during Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival, is the most important celebration observed in China, with cultural and historic significance. The festival signals the beginning of spring, and the start of a new year according to the Chinese lunar calendar.

The festival is celebrated across the country, but also has many related celebrations in nations and ethnic groups deriving from China.

2. Why Is Chinese New Year So Important?

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year’s importance is rooted deep in history, and today remains the most important occasion for generations of families to reunite and spend time together.

As many Chinese families may be separated due to career choices, education opportunities, and general urbanization, this festival serves as the prime opportunity for everyone to gather.

The celebration is also believed to be significant to ensure good fortune for the coming year and has many religious traditions and beliefs that hold value.

3. Why Is Chinese New Year Celebrated in Jan. or Feb.?

Chinese New Year Decorations

When is Chinese New Year celebrated? Chinese New Year is never on January 1. Chinese have a different traditional date for New Year.

Though China has a day off on January 1, and some fireworks are let off then, most attention is focused on the traditional date of New Year, according to China's lunar calendar. Chinese New Year falls in the period from January 21 to February 20.

The Chinese get no time off for Christmas (except those in HK, Macau, and Taiwan). Instead of earlier in winter, the Chinese have their much-needed winter break in mid to late winter.

The holiday time was chosen for farmers. It's a good time for them to get together, relax, and pray for the next year of farming, as it's the slack time before spring ploughing etc. begins.

Click to see When is Chinese New Year 2021?

4. Why Does the Date for Chinese New Year Change Every Year?

Chinese New Year Dragon Dances is an important chinese new year celebration activity Chinese New Year Dragon Dances

Firstly, China's lunar calendar is according to the moon. New Year always starts with a new moon for the Chinese. Secondly, it is according to the sun. Chinese New Year is always 1 to 2 months after China's shortest day of the year (the winter solstice, December 21 or 22).

(Like Easter's varying date, on the Sunday after the full moon after the March equinox, CNY is on the second new moon before the March equinox, or the second new moon after the December solstice.)

So the Chinese lunar date is always 21–51 days behind the corresponding Gregorian (international) calendar date… except when they add a month. Learn more about the Chinese Calendar.

5. Why Is It Called Lunar New Year?

The name ‘Lunar New Year’ can be used in place of ‘Chinese New Year’, as the festival celebrates the new year according to the Chinese lunar calendar. It is also a common substitution abroad.

The term ‘Lunar New Year’, however, does not always necessarily refer to this celebration, as other cultures may have different lunar new years, but in the context of China, it is almost always referring to the same thing.

6. Why Do the Chinese Call Chinese New Year 'Spring Festival'?

Chinese New YearChinese New Year dragon dance

Chinese New Year always falls within half a month of 'Start of Spring' (beginning February 4), the first of the 24 solar terms of China's traditional solar calendar. As 'Start of Spring' begins the 'farming calendar' it is logical that New Year should be celebrated then, with a "spring" festival.

'Start of Spring' is an oddly named solar term, because spring is still a month or more away in China's cold north, and wintry weather still lingers in temperate south China. However, Chinese still celebrate (the coming) spring with the Spring Festival.

To distinguish between "international" New Year (January 1) and Chinese New Year, instead of using 'New Year' (新年, usually meaning CNY in China), Chinese call January 1 'first dawn' (元旦) and Chinese New Year 'Spring Festival' (春节).

7. Why Is Chinese New Year Celebrated?

people Clean house to celebrate chinese newe yearPeople clean their houses before Chinese New Year.

This celebration, in its earliest form, was meant for farmers and workers to have a rest from their year-long hard labor, and therefore be ready to resume work afterwards, refreshed and well-rested.

Today, this is not very different, and everyone will have a lengthy vacation to rest well, and regain power for the new year. In a religious context, the festival also serves as a time to gain good fortune.

8. How Is Chinese New Year Celebrated?

The Chinese New Year has various forms of celebration unique to different regions and ethnicities. However, there are many traditions that are almost always included.

You'll see a lot of red lanterns during Chinese New YearChinese You'll see a lot of red lanterns during Chinese New Year

Visiting family members, decorating, giving gifts and greetings, having a big family meal, and doing some religious practices such as making offerings to ancestors or lighting incense, are some of the most common essentials.

Before the festival starts, another widespread tradition is to do a thorough house cleaning and to acquire new clothes in order to start the new year fresh and on a good (auspicious) note.

Nowadays, many of the traditions still follow the older customs, but obviously also with the addition of new developments. Families gather around to watch CCTV’s New Year Gala show during the ‘Reunion Dinner’, and stay up to watch fireworks at midnight.

Many families will spend the next few days visiting relatives, going to temples, or spending time playing games and resting at home.

9. Who Celebrates Chinese New Year?

Firework

The Chinese New Year is an official holiday in China, so everyone in the country gets time-off. The majority of the country will celebrate this festival, but there are also many ethnic groups that do not, and instead celebrate their own new year or spring celebrations.

Many of China’s neighbors, who share historical ancestry with China, may celebrate this festival as well, or similar festivals at around the same time, with similar elements and traditions.

As China’s culture has spread to all corners of the world, and the nation is becoming increasingly prominent, many countries in the West may also have Chinese New Year decorations and celebrations, to join in on the festivity, and to cater to their Chinese communities.

10. How Long Does Chinese New Year Last for?

Chinese New Year Celebration

Chinese New Year celebrations typically start on the evening before the new moon, and end on the evening of the full moon 15 days later (Lantern Festival). Each day of the festival will have its own set of traditions.

Preparations for the festival may start as early as a month before the actual festival, with tasks such as shopping, cleaning, cooking, and making the journey back home.

The official public holiday designates 7 days for vacation from work from Chinese New Year’s Eve, though some people may choose to extend their leave for more time to celebrate or travel, and others may choose to cut-short and return to work earlier.

11. Why Is Each Chinese New Year Associated with a Different Animal?

12 Chinese Zodiac Animal SignsThe 12 Chinese zodiac animals and their years

Since ancient times, Chinese people have been using the Chinese Zodiac animals to represent the years. Each lunar year is related to a zodiac animal, beginning at Chinese New Year. The 12 zodiac animals recur on a 12-year cycle.

For example, 2021 is a year of the Ox, as was 2009...

12. Why Do the Chinese Set Off So Many Firecrackers?

For the right vibe: Chinese New Year is a happy and lively festival, so for Chinese people lots of noise is a must to heighten the festival atmosphere, and firecrackers (and fireworks) are the cultural way to do it.

In ancient times, it was believed that the explosive sound of firecrackers scared away evil spirits, who might otherwise bring bad luck.

In modern China, people set off firecrackers and fireworks during festivals to express their happiness, and invite good luck (all firecrackers are the lucky color red).

Learn more about Why Chinese New Year Must Have Firecrackers?

13. Why Do the Chinese Eat Dumplings on New Year's Eve?

Dumplings Making dumplings

Dumplings are a traditional Chinese New Year food, especially in North China. As they are the shape of old silver and gold ingots (an old form of currency), Chinese believe that eating dumplings will bring prosperity in the coming year. More on symbolic Chinese New Year Foods

14. Why Do the Chinese Hand Out Red Envelopes at Chinese New Year?

For luck: In Chinese culture, red is a lucky color, so giving money in a red envelope is a way of giving best wishes, as well as a financial present. It's like sending a greetings card with money inside in the West. Red envelope money is called "lucky money", though it's really the red envelope that's lucky.

Red Envelops

Demon suppression: Traditionally red envelope money is called 'suppressing years money' (压岁钱 yāsuìqián /yaa-sway-chyen/). According to many New Year legends, evil spirits are scared of red, so red envelopes were originally used to suppress or ward off demons while giving money.

Chinese New Year, like Christmas in the West, is "the season of good will" in China, so most people receive a red envelope from someone, whether employer or family. There are lots of customs about who gives who how much in a red envelope. See How to Give Chinese New Year Lucky Money.

15. Why Do Chinese Wear New Red or Colorful Clothes at CNY?

Chinese New Year Celebration

It is believed that wearing new clothes from head to toe symbolizes a new start and fresh hopes for the New Year. Chinese believe that New Year's Day sets the tone for the rest of the year, so everyone tries to dress well.

As mentioned repeatedly here, red is China's good luck color, believed to scare away spirits of bad fortune.

Chinese usually wear red or other brightly-colored clothes on New Year's Day, to go with the festive and upbeat mood. Black or white, symbolic of mourning and death would not be appropriate. Learn more about Lucky Colors in Chinese Culture.

16. Why Are There Not Enough Trains at Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year is the most important time for family reunions. No matter how far Chinese are from their homes, they do whatever they can to get back for a family reunion dinner on New Year's Eve, which results in the world's biggest annual migration of people (over 200 million in China).

Even with the rail network at capacity, train tickets are the first to sell out. Learn more about the Chinese New Year Travel Rush.

17. Why Do Chinese Do Dragon and Lion Dances at Chinese New Year?

Lion DancesLion Dance

Dragon dances and lion dances are traditional performances for joyous festivals and big occasions to enhance festive atmosphere.

It is traditionally believed that performing dragon or lion dances (during the Spring Festival) is a way to pray for good luck and drive away evil spirits.

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